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For Russian President Putin, Olympics So Far Are a Public Relations Blunder

Released: 2/7/2014 1:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Indiana University
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Originally the 2014 Sochi Olympics were intended to burnish Russian President Vladimir Putin's legacy, impressing the world by showcasing his nation's preparedness for the games. However, construction delays, the lack of snow, concerns about potential terrorism and bombings that have already occurred, a gay rights debate and other issues now threaten his vision, says Dennis Elliott, a public relations industry veteran now lecturing at the IU School of Journalism.

"The anti-gay commentary from Putin and the U.S. response has shifted the world’s attention and focus," Elliott said. "What began as a positive and politically motivated campaign promoting the Sochi Olympics deteriorated to a crisis management situation -- a crisis that Putin has contributed to and one that has implications to a variety of publics: athletes, countries, human rights groups and the media.

"The 'crisis' seemingly grows as it is clear that Putin and his team are collectively out of their element when it comes to crisis management on the world stage -- or maybe they really don’t care or perceive the situation as a crisis at all," he added.

Leaders of several countries -- including the United States and some European countries -- plan to skip the opening ceremonies, some because of Moscow's record on human rights.

"Today, the idea of a boycott will not gain momentum in the short time that exists prior to the Winter Games in Russia. ... But public sentiment is not positive," Elliott said. "Does Putin understand, or even care, about the downside potential for making the games his personal toy? Nothing persuades me at the moment that he does understand or care. Threat diplomacy does not positively persuade others."

Elliott can be reached at 812-856-1901 or elliotdd@indiana.edu. He joined the journalism faculty as the Riley Visiting Professor in 2007 after a three-decade career in corporate public relations. For additional assistance, contact George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 or vlahakis@iu.edu.

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