SOCHI, Russia -- Social media has been especially harsh in its criticism of the 2014 Winter Olympics, as a flurry of negative reports have exposed some of the lingering problems plaguing the Black Sea resort town.
Pessimism has run rampant, as a Twitter account, “Sochi Problems,” already has 337,000 followers. Some of the issues and snafus include the infamous fifth Olympic ring mishap during the opening ceremony, hundreds of stray dogs roaming around the Olympic Village (there have been reports that many have been euthanized), and open manholes that drop about 15 feet deep.
Stephen Colbert recently quipped, “Given the anti-gay laws, you'd expect Putin to cover the manholes.”
Some journalists have described the Sochi Games as a “fiasco.” The controversies surrounding gay rights and corruption have now given way to everyday problems that are furthering dampening public perception.
The most publicized complications have surrounded the new hotels that clearly weren't ready for guests. Johnny Quinn, a member of the U.S. four-man bobsled team, found himself locked in a bathroom. With no phone or way to call for help, he smashed the door open, and posted a picture on Twitter of the large hole he bashed in to escape.
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Quinn is not the only one who has had door issues. One journalist openly discussed with his colleagues in the Main Media Center how his key wouldn’t open his hotel room. It turned out that even the hotel staff couldn’t get it open, and almost an entire day went by before he could enter.
“It went on and on forever,” he said. “Nobody could get it open.”
Some have been fortunate that hotels even kept their reservation. Many other hotels have botched reservations, as guests have entered their rooms only to learn that other guests were already sleeping there. A large number of visitors have complained that hotel room televisions don’t work, and lamps are often missing light bulbs. Some bathrooms lack hot water, or the water comes out dark.
Meanwhile, there are the problems that may seem mundane, but are nothing short of frustrating. Internet connection has been spotty and frequently slow. Reporters often have to sign in with their accreditation numbers multiple times a day. The Wi-Fi has been just as erratic, if not worse.
There hasn’t been much reason to boast over Sochi’s cuisine, as McDonald’s often has a longer line than other dining options in the food court.
While some of the complaints are legitimate, there also have been plenty of successes which failed to gain much coverage. Many of the volunteers (you can spot them easily with their multi-colored jackets), speak English and do their best to be helpful. They are also more polite and courteous than you might expect.
Mike Moir, an Englishman currently residing in Turkey, took a few days off from work to fly to Sochi to watch the Olympics. He didn’t experience any of the hotel inconveniences or overall problems that many have complained about on Twitter.
“Got a little lost, but that is to be expected,” he said. “Otherwise, I’m very impressed with how it’s been organized, and how it’s been run.”
Others have gushed about how so many of the Russians understand and speak English. It’s rare to find something written in Russian that doesn’t have its English translation directly below.
Safety has been another positive for the organizers. There had been concerns of possible terrorist attacks, but security checkpoints have been thorough and accommodating.
Transportation has been comprehensive and generally effective. The Sochi streets are saturated with buses that sometimes only carry a few passengers, and most buses run every five minutes. The Coastal Cluster has most of its venues within walking distance.
The roughly $51 billion spent on the Winter Olympics has also produced beautiful sports venues. The opening ceremony was a grandiose event which the 40,000 spectators at gleaming Fisht Stadium exited to mainly favorable reviews.
Depending on your sensibilities, the weather has been rather comfortable. On Monday, the highs nearly reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the lows have rarely dipped into the low 30s over the past few days. There has been no precipitation and little wind. For months, there had been concerns that the Mountain Cluster would lack snow, but that hasn’t been the case, and the conditions have been more than satisfactory.
As for the Games themselves, many of the events have gone over rather smoothly, which is usually rare for an Olympics. The lone example of a controversy came from French sports publication L’Equipe, which published a report that U.S. and Russian figure skating judges were conspiring to help Russia win the gold in the Olympic team event at the expense of Canada by giving higher scores to an American ice dancing pair. The article received a sharp rebuke from U.S. Figure Skating.
Few athletes have cited problems about the conditions at their events. The shape of the halfpipe has received numerous complaints, but that was also the case in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The BBC cited Jean Vanempten, a Belgian journalist who says Sochi does not suffer compared to previous hosts.
"All organizers suffer from the same megalomania," wrote Vanempten. "Just think of the Olympic infrastructure in Athens that is languishing in a poverty-stricken Greece. This infrastructure stands for the systematic killing of the Olympic spirit in an orgy of self-congratulatory bidding."
There may be some naiveté surrounding the criticism. Sochi detractors may conveniently forget that many of the past Olympic Games were chastised for being unorganized and ill-starred. While Sochi may have its share of difficulties, it’s what a large number of the journalists and fans had anticipated.
But try explaining that to the hotel guests with locked doors.