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OpEd: Why finding failures in Sochi has become an Olympic event

Laughing at the little things keeping us from crying over the big things in Sochi?
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Karen Green, February 10, 2014 4:30:06 PM

From unfinished hotel rooms to uncooperative Olympic rings, the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi, Russia have thus far produced a seemingly never-ending litany of head-shaking, if not minor, problems. While the issues the press and athletes are reporting shouldn’t pose a risk of overshadowing the excitement of the games, the early days of the competition have had nearly as much coverage of the mishaps as it has of the games itself.

In less than a week, the satirical Twitter feed, @SochiProblems (curated by a Canadian, I am proud to note) has garnered more than 331,000 followers, all eager to get news of the sometimes entertaining, sometimes baffling hiccups occurring in and around the Olympic games. It’s hard to look away. And why should we? Years in the making, these Sochi games are the most expensive on record. For nearly $51 billion, guests and competitors had every right to expect such luxuries as clean, running water and doorknobs. If Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin were looking to quell talk of corruption and mishandled expenses, having guests check in to unfinished hotels, navigate streets teeming with stray dogs, and question the safety of event construction is not the way to do it.

But perhaps the Sochi organizers should be thankful that these little glitches are in play, because they’re doing a good job of distracting their global audience from the very big glitches – namely the huge threat of terrorism that remains at the games, as well as Russia’s despicable anti-gay laws. With reporters caught up in finding a bed to sleep in, and the athletes wondering why theirs are so small, there’s barely any time to keep up with things like human rights violations, airplane hijackings and the mass cull of unwanted animals.

Of course, this is not the first Olympics games to be marked by some degree of failure: the summer games in Atlanta in 1996 were marred by the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, an attack that killed one and injured more than 100; and more recently, our very own 2010 Vancouver winter games endured tragedy before the opening ceremonies had even occurred, with the death of Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili. And a leaky faucet and un-landscaped grounds could never leave a mark as black as the mark left in Munich in 1972 after the hostage-taking and massacre of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic delegation.

Maybe that’s why we feel entitled to make such fun of the conditions in Sochi. It’s bad, but it’s not as bad as it could be – not as bad as we expected it to be. Sure, an athlete should not have to smash their way through a malfunctioning bathroom door, and it would be great to watch an Olympics without the whispers of collusion and score-fixing, but in the end, the star of these games may just end up being the games.

But we’ll see if the chatter from the sidelines succeeds in overpowering talk of the games. It’s early yet, and there are many medals left to be awarded.

Above: One of the rings forming the Olympic Rings fails to open during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014.
Image: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

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Karen Green
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