The 22nd Winter Olympics commence on Friday, February 7 in Sochi, Russia. The first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France in 1924, and they have been held continuously ever since, except for 1940 and 1944 because of WWII. Sochi, for those of you who do not know, is located in Southern Russia, near Chechniya and other terrorist hotspots. Why the Olympic hierarchy selected Sochi, which unlike the last three venues, (Vancouver, Canada, Turin, Italy and Salt Lake City, Utah), is well off the beaten track and lacks sufficient facilities to host the Games, is beyond me, but it did, and here we are.
Everyone is cognizant of the potential for terrorism at the Games. The Russians have gone to great lengths to prevent an attack. Security-wise these Games will be unlike any other. For example:
1. There are reports that suspected troublemakers/terrorists have been rounded up and imprisoned or shot. If this sounds extreme, remember, we’re talking about Russia. They don’t have to concern themselves with legal impediments such as due process or habeas corpus. People just disappear.
2. There are even reports that stray dogs and cats, which are a real problem there, are being shot.
3. US athletes have been advised to keep a low profile. For instance, they have been advised not to wear their Olympic uniforms when outside Olympic venues. In fact, it would probably be advisable not to venture outside the ring of security at all. This takes away from part of the Olympic experience, but the situation is what it is.
4. Families and guests of many Olympians have decided not to go to the Games. In some cases, this has been their own choice; in some cases it is at the request of the Olympian, himself, who wants to be able to concentrate on competing without worrying about his family’s safety. Imagine your spouse or child has worked all his life to compete in the Olympics, and you cannot share his experience in person.
5. The US has stationed two Navy warships in the nearby Black Sea to be available to protect and/or evacuate US citizens, if necessary.
In addition to security, certain accommodation issues have been reported by journalists and others already on the scene. Evidently, the facilities in Sochi are woefully substandard for an Olympic venue. Stories have been posted on facebook, twitter and/or U tube. The pictures are illuminating, to say the least. I don’t know whether they are funny or just embarrassing. You decide. For example:
1. Many of the streets have not been paved. Construction is ongoing.
2. There are many stray dogs and cats roaming free.
3. Six of the nine hotels are not fully operational, and the accommodations in those that have been completed are cramped.
4. Many toilets are not working. Some of the bathrooms have a sign that reads: Please don’t flush toilet paper…Put it in bins provided.”
5. The hotel rooms have double-toilet bathrooms. That’s right – two toilets side-by-side in the bathroom.
6. The water is not potable. You can’t even wash your face with it. One lady described how she had to wash her face with a bottle of Evian water.
7. The actual floor was missing from behind the reception desk in one hotel.
8. In many cases, hotel rooms were not even available. Reservations are non-existent.
9. Stray cats and dogs were found in some rooms (apparently having taken up residence there).
10. Examples of some basic items missing from hotel rooms are:
a. shower curtains
c. light bulbs
d. hot water
CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION
Welcome to the Olympics. The Sochi Games are starting out as one big embarrassment for both the host nation and the Olympic hierarchy that chose the venue. It is obvious that Sochi is not ready. It illustrates the risk of choosing a site lacking the basic facilities based on assurances that such facilities will be ready on time. The story of the venue, itself, and why it was chosen may turn out to be as big as the Games, themselves.