Putin tries to turn Russia into a mean, green, Olympic-winning machine
President Vladimir Putin has announced that he will be using the leftover cash from the Sochi Olympics to revamp an old Soviet fitness regime — one in which Russians swim, run, jump and hike to prove themselves worthy of defending their nation.
Suddenly, my Pilates class feels inadequate.
Putin announced on March 24 that the program — known by the initials GTO, short for a Russian phrase that translates to “Ready for Labor and Defense” — will “pay homage to (the) national historical traditions.”
These traditions involved a nearly century-old Stalinist system that was based on physical evaluations and training programs for all age groups and lasted from 1931 until the 1991 fall of the U.S.S.R. The regime’s “all-around physical development of the individual” included exercises like pull-ups, rope climbing, skiing — and dummy grenade throwing.
Those who excelled in these fields were given silver or gold badges to prominently display for the public eye. The participants who excelled repeatedly over the years were awarded the Badge of Honor.
It sounds like Sochi Part Two, specifically tailored to Russians and Russians only. In Putin’s words, according to Reuters, “the Olympics and Paralympics have demonstrated that we are again becoming one of the leaders in global sports,” in reference to the 2014 Russian athletes’ 33 Olympic medals.
While the former program was engineered as a war effort, this resurrected version is being labeled as a collection of tests that will “rear active and healthy generations” for Russia. And yet Putin’s desire to strengthen the country is quite timely, considering the nation’s contentious accession of Crimea.
In an interview with ITAR-TASS News Agency’s Alexandrova Lyudmila, Krasnoyarsk Territory Gov. Lev Kuznetsov said, “there should be no compulsion. We must try to create a situation where people will be eager to do sports.”
It seems that in order to do so, Putin has taken to celebrity endorsement; he first announced his decision about GTO last year in Moscow with action film star Steven Seagal at his side.
According to the Washington Post, Seagal “retains celebrity among the oligarch class” and was there in support of Putin’s plan for Russians “to stand up for themselves, their family and, in the final run, the Fatherland.”
The Telegraph reports that Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports minister, said his agency “would work to introduce the physical training standards nationwide by 2016” in a meeting spearheaded by Putin. The new GTO will begin this September, starting with six- to 11-year-olds.
The president has ordered annual reports of its progress for himself and for the public, confident that the initiative will be a great success. As Putin is an avid fitness buff, it’s no surprise his government had been discussing “how to attract the vast majority of our citizens to take part in regular physical training.”
And the Russian populace is apparently in support of this project, just as 88 percent of respondents are in support of admitting Crimea into their nation’s boundaries, according to Interfax statistics.
From an evolutionary perspective, Russia’s victory at the Olympics seems to have been the impetus for Putin to encourage a “survival of the fittest” mentality among his citizens. But for those outside his borders, it poses a threat to one of the most celebrated events in world history.
Every four years, people from all corners of the earth support their respective Olympians in the competition of a lifetime. However, if the GTO is promoting Olympian expertise among an entire population — which its description suggests — at the least, it lessens the prestige of the actual Olympic games.
And although Russians are said to view these practices as “sensible,” they don’t need governmental motivation to walk in the footpath of gold medalists. It invalidates the perseverance and discipline of those remarkable beings that do it by the force of their own willpower.
So while the torch goes to “the Fatherland” in this round, a grander plan is under way — one that envisions Putin’s Russia as the greatest player on the world stage. The exact details of this plan, however, are up for debate.
In light of this, I think I’ll take up yoga. In fact, that should be included in the GTO. Maybe it would help ease Crimean tensions.
Opinion columnist Alex Meyer is a creative writing freshman and may be reached at [email protected]