Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Problems Sochi-izing (sic)

In the run up to the XXII Winter Olympiad being held in the Russia Federation's Black Sea resort city of Sochi, there were concerns about attacks from so called black widow Chechian terrorists and  Vladimir Putin's drive against homosexuals.   That being said, now that the world's media are arriving to the Caucus to cover the games, more immediate infrastructure issues are evident.

The Russian Federation has invested $51 billion to make the Sochi games a hallmark for the new Russia. Yet with days before the start of the games, six of the nine  mountain hotels meant for the media were fully operational. While organizers maintain that 97% of the hotel rooms are finished, construction workers are rushing around two days before the opening ceremonies.  They boast that the hotels are 95% booked.

Organizers may pride themselves on the rooms being finished but a more salient question is are they ready.  Organizers expect 11,000 accredited journalists to cover the games. Some hotels do not even have lobbies yet, which promoted a Twitter post suggesting that guest's check in at the owner's bedroom.  While that could have been some Black Sea humor,  knowing the myriad of other infrastructure issues and work arounds, it may not have been a tongue in cheek comment.

A German photographer sought to check into a media hotel and found that his first room was unfinished, the substitute room was occupied by still busy construction workers and the third room was occupied by a stray dog. So much for first chances to make a good impression.

Lightbulbs were such a premium at the media hotel room that Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel was willing to barter them for a single working door handle.  Per (Canada) National Post correspondent Bruce Arthur, there may be a hot black market for shower curtains.   Wetzel noted that his room has two single beds, one pillow and no shower curtain as workmen laid the brick sidewalk outside.  Well at least construction workers were not spray painting the grass green near him.

One journalist lost his hotel key. As the hotel did not have a copy, instead of giving him a new key, the management removed the whole door.  Not that the rooms with doors are secure.  Brian Costa from  Wall Street Journal reported had an unexpected  4 am Stranger in the Sochi night. Costa wondered if it was graveyard shift housekeeping, a construction worker or something more sinister.  Sean Walker, the Moscow Correspondent for The Guardian, quipped on Twitter: “If you bring 4.9 stars we can add it to what we have already and it’ll be a five star hotel!”

Then there are the toilet situations.  As some of the venues facilities were constructed, there were no partitions for separate commode stalls in the Men's Olympic Biathalon.

Perhaps it was a failure in communications as construction workers thought Biathlon meant Two for Loo.  Rest assured it was not the very real  ToDaLoo or the satirical Love Toilet  of SNL fame.   For those visitors to Sochi with running water and can use their toilets, there are idiosyncratic operational signs.

But there were also signs which warned not to flush toilet paper down the commode but to use the bins which Sochi organizers provided. Classy.

Then there are less fortunate guests, who do not have water, at a supposed first class hotel for the media.

There was good reason not to use the water when it was restored as it looked like urine.  The Chicago Tribune's Stacey St. Clair looked on the bright side of the situation, and shared via Twitter that she was washing her face with Evian, like a Kardashian.  But then again, look at what drinking that water has done for Bruce Jenner.

These Olympic infrastructure issues are enough to make a tourist laugh lest one cry.

Although these are niggling problems for visitors which Sochi is in the spotlight, it is much more for local inhabitants.  In Akhshtyr , a mountain village near Sochi, the pristine nature reserves lost its status as a national park when Sochi was picked in 2008 to host the XXII Winter Olympiad.  Quarries and waste dumps mushroomed.  A chagrined resident lamented:  "All you can fish from the river these days is construction waste." 

Caucus mountain village of  Akhshtyr with Sochi Olympic construction waste (photo: DWM Bushuev)

Denizens which will not suffer anymore are the stray dog population.   There have been thousands of stray dogs in the mud and rubble of Olympic construction sites that roam the streets and snowy mountainsides.  As the Games drew new, Sochi organizers hired a company to catch and kill the animals so that they do not create a nuisance.  No wonder the stray was hiding in the media hotel room, to blend in among kindred spirits.

It is dubious if NBC will cover much of this construction chaos as an official media channel for the International Olympic Committee.  However, the curious can follow the construction schadenfreude on Twitter #sochiproblems

h/t:  Euronews

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