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Gromotka: Shortcomings at Sochi

BY ADAM GROMOTKA | FEBRUARY 10, 2014 5:00 AM

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It’s old news that conditions for athletes, reporters, and spectators in Sochi are less than ideal. The first page of Google search results for “Sochi” provides a pretty even split between competition results and articles mocking the sorry state of affairs in the coastal city. One of the results, a Buzzfeed article — oh, how we love our lists — goes so far as to call Sochi a “Godforsaken Hellscape.” So, evidently, Russia screwed up big time, and it’s clear that everyone’s enjoying the spectacle. But what does the response say about our own behavior? How will we remember the 2014 Winter Olympics?

I can’t pretend to be on a high horse of morality and maturity; I’ve enjoyed almost every picture and Tweet from Sochi I’ve found. There have been a number of reports of failing amenities — it seems a lot of rooms are missing key, basic items like doorknobs and light bulbs. Apparently, bathrooms in Sochi are broken. Some feature side-by-side toilets, and others toilets that don’t accept toilet paper. The water quality is awful, and Russia’s found a less-than-humane way to deal with the large number of stray dogs roaming the streets. It’s a long list, so, for brevity’s sake, I’ll let you look up the rest.

What makes these reports especially humorous is that we all expect the Olympics to be a glorious event, a time when the world’s best athletes shine and the host country shows off its stuff. With a price tag hovering around $50 billion, blowing the $9 billion that hosting cost Vancouver out of the water, it’s amazing that Russia has failed so miserably. Plus, we all love making fun of Russia.

Even international media struggles to make a case supporting this year’s games. At the opening ceremonies, Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach gave a speech that included remarks about the importance of tolerance and removing discrimination, but NBC cut this important portion of the speech because of time constraints, which, given Russia’s deplorable record on gay rights, is unfortunate.

But the haste to jump on the bully train by so many people shows an equally miserable side of human character. It seems that for every one thing wrong in Sochi, 20 very “clever” bloggers have made a list of grievances. And some of these complaints are petty. Heaven forbid three athletes most of the world has never heard of — even when competing in the Olympics — have to share a bedroom. Suddenly, this is a major concern.

None of this is to say we should cut Russia slack on any of its shortcomings. Its efforts to host one of the most globally popular competitions have been awful and pathetic. But things aren’t all bad.

Russia has called a truce in the Syrian conflict for the duration of the games. Plus, through donations, Jamaica managed to send its bobsled team to Sochi.  Despite drowning in a sea of negativity, it seems there are some uplifting things to talk about — though they’ve already been forgotten.

I hope that the spirit of global competition can eventually wash away the Internet bullying, but, until then, I’ll keep laughing at these pictures.


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