In Russia, accusations of corruption taint even Olympics mascot selection
In weekend voting for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics mascot, Russians chose a wide-eyed, snowboard-toting leopard. But many claim the vote was rigged to ensure Prime Minister Putin's favored mascot would win.
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But when the three winners were announced, a storm of controversy erupted.Skip to next paragraph
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Ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, deputy speaker of the Duma, slammed all three designs as unworthy. "The bear is the dumbest animal," he said, "the leopard is vicious, and the rabbit is a coward."
Viktor Chizhikov, who designed one of the most popular Olympic mascots of all time, a cuddly teddy bear named Misha who symbolized the Soviet Union's 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, claimed that his idea had been recycled to create the polar bear, which won second place in the voting.
"It's exactly the same as mine – the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the smile, even though it's been distorted," Mr. Chizhikov told the independent Ekho Moskvi radio station. "I don't like it when people steal ideas; it's always very painful for an author."
Professionals sneered. "This is complete madness; out of nothing they created an event of popular excitement," says Vasily Tsigankov, head of graphic design at the National Institute of Design in Moscow. "These three wild symbols were made by amateurs. They are three clumsy designs, produced by people who don't know how to draw, and selected by people who are not professionals either. It looks like no trained artists even took part in the competition."
Some commentators suggested that Putin's public embrace of the athletic snow leopard, which had earlier been lagging far behind in public polling, may have ensured its victory – in much the same way the hyper-popular Putin easily engineered the election of his own successor, Dmitry Medvedev, to Kremlin leadership three years ago.
But it was Mr. Medvedev – he may have favored the polar bear design (the Russian word for bear is "medved") – who dropped the heaviest hint of all.
At a government meeting to consider the adoption of a new electronic national ID card, Medvedev said he hoped the process of selecting a design for the card would be "more equitable than the discussion of the symbols for our Olympics."