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‘Sochi Da’? More Like ‘Sochi, Nyet!’! February 5, 2014

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics, Sports.
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Does this look like a winter sports destination to you? Can one think of anything more antithetical to the Winter Olympics than palm trees? Yet this only scratches the surface regarding all the things wrong with Sochi, and it calls the collective judgment of the IOC into serious question.

As a life-long fan of the Olympics, I must concede that I am very excited for the Winter Games to commence this Friday evening.  But this time I am excited with reservations, namely on the very choice of the city and country to host these Games.  It is painfully clear to me that the judgement of the leadership of the International Olympic Committee (henceforth the IOC) was, to put it mildly, severely compromised.

What’s wrong with Sochi?  Let us count the ways.  Start with the fact that it is out-of-the-way.  For the previous three Winter Olympics in a row (Salt Lake City, Torino, and Vancouver), the IOC got it mostly right.  The United States and Canada are commerce-oriented, and have first-rate infrastructures, not to mention the population bases in the bookend cities dictate the size and quantity of hotel rooms to accommodate massive influxes of spectators for gigantic events, like, say, the Olympics.  Torino was not a terrible choice in that they had a solid population base to handle the Games and the many myriads of people.  It’s just that Italy is not exactly commerce-oriented, not when compared to the Anglosphere or even Germany, for that matter.

Another huge problem with Sochi is the geography itself, and in more ways than one.  The most obvious problem is that fact that Sochi is a subtropical resort, hardly the ideal spot for the designated hub of winter sports championship events.  At least the nearby mountains are snowy, though.  The size of the town is not quite up to what is needed for the Winter Games of this modern size.  Gone are the days when a tiny ski resort town like Lake Placid (population:  less than 4,000) could handle the Winter Olympics.  It was fine when you had only 19 countries competing, with a total of about 200 total athletes (as was the case in 1932), and they barely, just barely pulled it off in 1980.  Calgary turned out to be a great choice in 1988, but then small town problems persisted again with Albertville (whose 1992 population was only about 35,000), and also with Nagano (1998:  just too far out of the way), which brings us back to Sochi.  At only about 340,000, it’s not as big as metro Salt Lake City, let alone Calgary, Torino or Vancouver.

Isolation is another issue.  It is located on the eastern end of the Black Sea, way too out-of-the-way compared to major population centers of countries with a sufficient degree of commerce-orientation.  That isolation makes it unduly taxing on the kind of nations that will make the most substantial contributions athletically and in terms of medal counts.

This does not even take into consideration the issue of sticker shock for families trying to make it to Sochi to cheer on their sons or daughters in person as they compete.  Unlike commerce-oriented locales like Calgary, Salt Lake or Vancouver, which have plenty of hotel rooms all over their respective metro areas, Sochi has yet to build up the hotel space designed to handle the major crush of people about to descend on it.   Combine high demand for hotel rooms and low supply thereof, and out-of-the-way air travel, and you have a prohibitively expensive combination that will keep the vast majority of families away, period.

For those who do have hotel rooms, particularly those in the media, there are plenty of issues to contend with that are non-issues in more civilized parts of the world.  The Russian government has had seven, count ’em, seven years to prepare for these games, yet look at the laundry list of issues that members of the media have to contend with regarding their lodging while covering these Games.

There have been twitter-fed reports from journalists of having to climb out of their windows just to leave their hotels.  Also, there are reports of hotel lobbies have no floors; of having to contend with stray dogs in hotels — you know, the stray dogs that the Russian government is not murdering with typical Bolshevik brutality.  Then there is the glaring lack of water at some hotels, and where there is water, that people are advised not to drink it.

Seven years and 51 Billion (with a ‘B’) dollars later, and this is the best they could do?  Actually, why are we not surprised?  This is, after all, Russia, whose people had to make multiple botched attempts to bump off Rasputin.  Never underestimate the power of Russian incompetence — or corruption, for that matter.

Remember, folks, one thing that separates the developed First World from every place else is a more open, transparent government, and relatively minimized corruption.  It is clear that with $51 Billion wasted in Sochi, somebody got paid off.

Now let us consider the not-so-small issue of athlete and spectator safety.  Did the IOC consider Sochi’s close proximity to Chechnya and the fact that that spot of the world is a hotbed for Moslem terror?  Or did that just slip the IOC’s collective mind as they awarded the hosting of the 2014 Winter Games to Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy?

The term ‘kleptocrat’ is not used lightly, either.  During a formal reception, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft happened to bump into Putin.  The latter asked to see Kraft’s Super Bowl ring, and Kraft, ever the gentleman, obliged without hesitation in the interests of both classy conduct and international relations.  If only Putin were as much of a gentleman.  Instead of doing the right thing and returning the ring to Mr. Kraft, after the Pats’ owner so kindly handed over such a precious article of jewelry to the despot for his own close inspection and presumed admiration, Putin just put the ring in his suit pocket and immediately surrounded himself with three KGB agents before leaving the party without delay.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the leader of the nation that is about to host the Winter Olympics.

I ask yet again:  did the IOC consider that?  Did they consider anything?  If current hindsight is any indication, they did not.  They did not consider the relative lack of commerce-orientation and the necessary infrastructure that it inevitably entails.  They, apparently, did not consider basic geography, be it climate (remember, the whole subtropical resort deal), nor the human side of geography (Chechnya, Islamic terrorism, etc.) and its obvious security risks that imperil athletes and spectators alike.  Neither did the IOC consider geography in terms of fundamental location, and the fact that it is out-of-the-way compared to many other sites in more civilized locales.  Need we mention the IOC’s lack of consideration regarding the human rights violations and the increased authoritarianism of Putin’s regime?  This is to say nothing of the rampant corruption that has left everybody outside of the teams themselves lacking for basic living necessities in their lodging.

There are really only a small handful of countries that are capable of competently handling the Olympics, given the size to which the Games have grown.  And remember, the words ‘competence’ and ‘Russia’ hardly go together!  Again, the importance of the commerce-orientation in a country is that it has the infrastructure (transportation, hotel accommodations, sanitation/cleanliness, etc.) that can handle such an astronomically massive set of events.  But moreover, this same small handful of governments that are sufficiently free/democratic, and have a free press that can call wayward politicians and government officials into proper account (barring left-wing media malpractice, anyway).  Such openness is a symptom of the proper commitment towards first-world living standards and infrastructure in the first place.  The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Australia and Japan — to an extent — can all pull it off well.  Why roll the dice with some place so isolated, in a dangerous part of the world, with a non-winter sports climate, in a country with an increasingly dictatorial government?

Of course, one plausible explanation for this gross lack of judgment on the part of the IOC is that maybe part the $51 Billion spent on these Games in Russia was dangled in front of the faces of key IOC members to cast the vote in favor of Putin’s regime.  This is Europe, after all, where such corruption is more commonplace than in the Anglosphere, by and large.

The truth of the matter is, as mentioned before, the vast majority  of countries are not built to handle the Olympics.  Contrary to the feel-good, politically-correct mantra, not everybody deserves a chance to host something so huge.  Not all cultures are equal, hence not all countries are properly equipped to handle such a massive undertaking.  The wise approach would be to cycle the Games around in a handful of cities/countries that have proven that they can handle such events without a hitch.  Why not cycle it from Salt Lake to Munich to Vancouver (or Calgary) and repeat the cycle?  Don’t out-think the room, IOC.

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