I really love the Winter Olympic Games – so much that I took two weeks off of work and travelled to Torino, Italy in 2006 to watch them. It was a fantastic experience, and as the Sochi Olympics gear up this week, the memories are all coming back.
One thing that has struck me this time around is the intense criticism of Russia’s preparations for these games. This shouldn’t be a surprise to me, yet it is. Everything on the internet these days seems to be about finding fault with otherwise great items or experiences. Individuals provide “comments” on everything from news stories, to parenting blogs, to book reviews in order to prove their closed-minded perspective and limited worldview. Of course, most of us have never been to Russia, and as Americans we are uninterested in truly experiencing other cultures, preferring instead to compare their “barbarism” with our “civilization.”
What do you want Sochi to be? Do you even know where it is? Russia is and always has been very different from European countries, being mostly in Asia, and being cut off from both European and Asian civilizations by mountain ranges, deserts, and deep winters. Sochi, though, is much closer to either Iran or Kazakhstan than it is to Moscow, let alone Paris. The culture there, the values, the standards should be different from what you and I are used to. Don’t forget that the Olympic Games are about two things: Athletic Competition, and International Unity. Can we try to see those things that are unexpected as a means to understand one another, and our diverse perspectives on everything from food to social mores to toilets? Yes, toilets, you know what I’m talking about.
The intense competition for hosting the Olympics may be another cause of contention – it is easy to say “our city could have done a better job,” when you will never have to prove that you could have. In Vancouver, the lack of snow was a major criticism, as was the distance of the mountain venues from the city. There may have been just as much criticism of Torino, but I don’t really know.
Why wouldn’t I know that? Well, for starters, I didn’t have Facebook then. Neither did many of my friends, or many of the athletes for that matter. News was not disseminated primarily by opinionated lay people on Twitter or blogs – you got it from trained professionals via TV or newspaper. Of course, I was also in Italy, where they certainly weren’t criticizing themselves. Or were they…?
In the interest of defending Sochi, here are a couple comparisons to the Torino venues. I didn’t stay in a hotel, so I can’t comment on the quality of those, but I can say that the city was over five times its normal size for the duration of the 2006 Olympic Games. Schools and non-essential businesses were closed because they didn’t want to tie up traffic with buses and commuters. The streets, shops, and restaurants were constantly thronged.
And if you want to talk about the venues…. more on those next time!