U.S. 67, Russia 52, Context 0

U.S.-Russia hoops coverage fails to mention Georgia war

Here is the extent that the powers-that-be in Beijing have been successful at de-politicizing these Olympics: This morning’s U.S.-Russia women’s basketball game, which should have carried all sorts of intrigue and comment, given the two nations’ recent bellicosity over the situation in Georgia, was treated by the entirety of the press corps as just another stepping stone for the U.S. women on their way to a gold medal (the U.S. won 67-52).

I’m not saying the game should have been covered with the Cold War overtones of, say, the 1972 men’s gold medal game, the infamous disputed match that saw the U.S. refuse its silver medal in the contentious aftermath. But a mention of the conflict in at least one of the hundreds of game stories, or on the broadcast itself, seems mandatory.

Every story managed to note the odd situation of Becky Hammon, a U.S. citizen who plays in Russia and was granted naturalized citizenship so she could play for Russia in the Olympics. She was called a traitor by U.S. coach Anne Donovan, and was the subject of much debate coming into the Games. Most stories, like this one from the Dallas Morning News, focused on Hammon, her relations with the U.S. team, and the fact that she was held to three points as the U.S. advanced.

But no one has asked, to my knowledge, whether Hammon’s decision would be the same if she had to make it in the context of the Russia-Georgia conflict, or what her teammates think about the suddenly frosty relationship between the U.S. and Russia, or anything remotely geopolitical. I know it’s the Olympics, and we are supposed to “forget about the real world,” or some such nonsense, but we all know the Games have always been political. It seems the most basic of oversights to ignore a still-simmering situation and how it affects both sides, even if the answers in return might be boilerplate.

But given how the mainstream media has mostly ignored the Chinese government’ s failure to follow its agreements to lift press and citizen restrictions, and the lack of any festive atmosphere in the Beijing streets, and the effect of the appalling weather conditions on the outdoor events, it’s no surprise that this is one more storyline that has been taped over, like many of the non-Olympic sponsor logos that dot Beijing.

But it’s all good, so long as the women’s team wins the gold medal. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!!

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Robert Weintraub is the author of The House That Ruth Built. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and Slate, and a television writer/producer based in Atlanta.