Have you heard? The Olympics are underway.
That’s right, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia have begun, but while you may or may not be aware of the onset of the games themselves, you’re almost certainly aware of what appears to be a world class “dropping-of-the-ball” by a country, its president, and everyone else responsible for putting-on one of this world’s most iconic sporting events.
Between the inflated price of construction, half-finished products, security concerns, and alleged corruption stemming from the tip-top of the Russian government food chain, the Sochi Olympics are looking more like an intramural talent competition rather than a world-class sporting event seen but every four years.
For much of the week, the western media has been reporting on the sub-standard conditions of their accommodations in Sochi, in addition to commentary and pictures regarding work yet to be done.
As they began to arrive more than a week ago, social media was overrun with pictures of discolored water, toilets unable to be flushed, undersized beds, and hotel doors that wouldn’t shut. In addition to the aforementioned, light bulbs and shower curtains were in short supply, televisions were hit or miss, and WiFi? Maybe next time.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone, after-all, since securing the games in 2007, skeptics wondered how a nation fraught with a lifetime’s worth of internal issues would successfully turn a subtropical resort city on the Black Sea, into a viable venue for the Winter games. Seven years and 52 billion dollars later, the world is chuckling at another failed attempt by a proud Russian nation to prove to naysayers that they can hang with the “big boys” when it comes to supporting a global production.
From the onset, interested bystanders have watched from a distance as President Putin repeatedly tripped on his own feet en route to where we are today.
He cast himself in a homophobic light with a law banning gay propaganda. He’s buried his country beneath a budget tied directly to the price of crude oil, which is teetering near a dollar figure capable of taking his regime down. And his policy regarding the $52 billion (Which is more than every other Winter Olympics combined) used to prepare Sochi for this month’s games, is neck-deep in a scandal revolving around Putin’s “boys,” who have been the sole benefactors of contracts allocated by the Russian President.
Now, while he awaits the results of nearly seven years of a project set beneath his name, he’s desperately scrambling in an attempt to beat the buzzer of a trigger-happy international community anxious to feed him to the lions.
He’s created his “Ring Of Steel,” a collection of tens of thousands police and troops in an effort to ease security concerns of outside countries. He’s recently pardoned former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, members of the punk band Pussy Riot, and Greenpeace activists as an olive branch to international communities. And recently, he’s repeatedly met with the press in an attempt to ease concerns of homosexual athletes competing in the games, reiterating that gays are not discriminated against in his country. Going as far as suggesting Russians love Tchaikovsky (Who was rumored to be a homosexual), “Truth be told, we don’t love him because of that, but he was a great musician and we all love his music,” Putin said.
So while Russia and President Putin nervously wait to see if their work pays off, and the media covering it waits to pounce if it doesn’t, the athletes who’ve trained to get to this point leave their fate in the hands of a community seemingly in over their heads. Accommodations are substandard…allegedly, some venues – while shiny and new – remain unfinished…so we’ve been told, and security for the athletes as well as spectators of the games continue to be a topic of concern.
How does this happen? These countries have nearly a decade to prepare for this event, and they’re chosen by the International Olympic Committee to host the event because they’re allegedly the best equipped to do just that.
But are they really? Are they chosen because they’re the best equipped to deal with the challenge at hand, or is it just a ruse amidst a scandal all these games seem to be?
The 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan was built on millions of dollars of “illegitimate and excessive levels of hospitality” to IOC members. In 2000, Sydney, Australia secured their bid for the summer games with cash paid to delegates in exchange for votes. Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002, bribed IOC members with cash, land purchase agreements, tuition assistance, political campaign donations, and charitable contributions. And the Beijing Olympics were fraught with financial irregularities, bribes, and various illegalities including sexual favors for various members of the hierarchy. So some of this isn’t a Sochi problem, but more an Olympics problem stemming from the greed the IOC seems to feed from.
A couple weeks from now, the Sochi Olympics will be over. There will be gold medalists, silver medalists, bronze medalists, and those who go home empty-handed, but every competitor will be a winner for just having been there, but Sochi, the country of Russia, and the president who brought the Olympics to it, won’t have medals as a result of their performance, but rather the respect or lack thereof of a world watching.
Good luck Sochi, word is you’re going to need it.