The final results of the London Olympics are in, and those who root for democracy in other contexts can take pride in the outcome. Nearly two-thirds of the total medals—and of gold medals—were won by countries that are designated as Free in Freedom in the World. Countries designated as Not Free grabbed slightly more than a quarter of all medals and around 30 percent of gold medals.
Until recently, it could at least be said that countries with objectionable political systems played host to major global sports competitions only occasionally. Forty-four years elapsed between the Berlin and Moscow Olympics, and it was another 28 years before the games were held in Beijing. Second-tier events in dictatorial states tended to be limited to low-profile sports like weightlifting and wrestling. But all that is changing fast. Some of the most prestigious international athletic competitions have recently been held, or are now set to be held, in countries that regularly make world headlines with their rigged elections, state-dominated media, repression of minorities, or full-bore retreat from democracy to authoritarianism.
It is an increasingly common occurrence for repressive countries with dismal human rights records to put themselves forward as hosts for major international forums—whether in the sphere of sports and entertainment or in politics.
Freedom House is deeply concerned by reports that Russian authorities are harassing and marginalizing opposition candidates running for the mayor of Sochi, the city chosen to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.