After spending billions ($51 billion by many estimates) on the Sochi Olympics, Russia has very little to show for it. These Olympics have been plagued with problems from the start. At first, the coverage was about the significant amount of corruption occurring through the selective distribution of government contracts to business leaders close to Putin’s government, but now the world is seeing just how bad of a job these contractors did. The Washington Post estimates that the government itself spent at least $24 billion, but potentially as much as the full $50 billion that many originally estimated, on the games. Government records for transactions relating to Sochi have been highly opaque leading many to assume that the only logical explanation is corruption.
Since the start of the Olympics last week, both journalists and athletes have been tweeting endlessly about the deplorable conditions of their accommodation. The most circulated photo seems to be that of a bathroom with two toilets in a single stall. Team members have tweeted pictures of them sitting side-by-side on toilets for a quick ‘toilet strategy session’ before hitting the slopes. Other pictures include hallways in the Olympic Village with wires running down the corridors, holes in the floors and walls and doors with broken locks.
Locked doors have led to many issues, including a US bobsledder that had to kick his bathroom door down in order to get out. A similar occurrence happened to an American journalist who got locked in his hotel room for hours. Snowboarder Shaun White tweeted that there was a 6 am fire alarm in the Village, but the fire escape door on his floor would not open. Even if the accommodations were awful, you’d think the Russians would at least get some basic safety precautions right.
One of the worst examples of Sochi’s failures has been the water quality. Teams have resorted to only buying bottled water since the water flowing from their taps, if it’s even flowing at all, is an orangey yellow. Don’t worry though, athletes were assured that the water was completely safe for drinking; after all, the locals drink it.
One of my favourite images was of a circuit breaker for an entire hotel floor installed inside a shower. The athlete posting the picture joked: “Well I’m glad this is here in case I need to do any electrical work while showering.”
All of these images are absolutely awful for Russia, a country striving to shed its poor image in the west, solidified by news of mass corruption, anti-gay policies and widespread public drunkenness. Financial news outlets have been commenting all week that the endless problems in Sochi are emblematic of Russia’s overall lack of productivity, efficiency and accountability.
At least since the games have begun, more attention has been focused on the athletes than their rooms. But that attention has been relatively short-lived. The new question being asked is: why Sochi? Why was the hottest place in Russia chosen as the host site for the Winter Olympics? Even Atlanta, Georgia, in the southern United States and host of the 1996 Summer Olympics is colder now than Sochi! People posted photos of themselves shirtless or in swimwear, mocking Russia and saying that it couldn’t even pick a decent place; “Where’s the snow?” everyone is asking.
The warm temperatures mean that ski slopes are extremely icy, since all of the snow for each event is made artificially and as it begins to melt, new snow is made and dumped onto the slopes.
Furthermore, the Norwegian slopestyle snowboarder and Olympic favourite Torstein Horgmo broke his collarbone during training because of Sochi’s ridiculously steep slopes. As a result, organisers made modifications to the course. This is just one more example of the complete failure this Olympics has been and will likely be remembered as. Next time the International Olympic Committee selects a country for the Olympics it’s important they examine past failures and choose a country that embodies Olympic values and well, can actually host an Olympics – and it seems Russia doesn’t meet either of these requirements.
Photo of Putin: Wikimedia Commons