Stop the whining about Sochi! There’s been worse
BY RICK MORRISSEY Staff Columnist February 11, 2014 11:16AM
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Updated: February 12, 2014 10:04AM
SOCHI, Russia — I’ll bet you didn’t know whining was an Olympic sport. Don’t feel bad. I didn’t, either, until about two weeks ago, when my journalistic brethren began complaining in earnest.
Upon arrival here, some found that their rooms, if available, lacked shower curtains, light bulbs, warm water, toilet paper or, gasp, televisions that worked.
And so the narrative began: Sochi was a backward, ill-prepared city of buffoons, and how these godforsaken Russians got an Olympics was beyond the reach of human comprehension. That narrative has not let up, even in the face of stunning scenery, wonderful weather, gracious hosts, excellent sporting venues and, yes, remedied housing situations.
An incredible amount of piling on continues, much of it on Twitter, and lots by journalists whose creature comforts have been disturbed. It’s a good thing these people aren’t foreign correspondents; otherwise we’d be getting reports on the tragic shortage of Starbucks in Syria rather than on the civil war there.
Did you know that Sochi has lots of stray dogs? Yes, it does, and American journalists were aghast when they found out that Russian officials were catching them and putting them to sleep. Can you imagine such heartlessness? Wait a second, perhaps you can. We euthanize thousands of dogs a day in the United States. Why Sochi’s solution surprised media members is something of a mystery.
Perhaps they didn’t like the idea that these cold, image-conscious Russians were trying to pull one over on the world. You know, the way Atlanta tried to during the 1996 Summer Games, when officials shipped homeless people from downtown to an area about 10 miles away. Better that no one’s Olympic experience be sullied by the sight of beggars.
There has been a lot of indignation from American journalists about Russia’s harsh anti-gay laws, as there should be. But that indignation sure has a bad case of amnesia. Our record on tolerance of gays hasn’t been exactly stellar. One ugly, government-led attempt to isolate gays here doesn’t mean an entire country thinks that way. Nor does it follow that Russia is a hopeless backwater.
But most of the media’s anger has been reserved for the unfortunate reality that Marriott doesn’t run the world. There’s a kind of carping one-upmanship going on here: Your shower water is lukewarm? Mine is the color of whiskey!
Are reporters really complaining about their rooms when spectators are wondering whether a suicide bomb might go off? Yes, they are. Nice form.
Predictably, a Twitter account (@SochiProblems) has been compiling all that is wrong with these Olympics. It has 345,000 followers. An American bobsledder gets locked in his bathroom here, and a group cackle ensues. Somebody notices that many under-construction buildings around the city look like an ode to rubble, and people roll their eyes at the ham-handed Russkis. Why people who are not here would care about such things, I don’t know. But I get the feeling that if @SochiProblems tweeted “Fire!’’ these same people would run out of their houses.
This is my eighth Olympics and, trust me, this one isn’t the worst. That would be Atlanta, where bus drivers didn’t know their routes and are quite possibly in South Dakota now. The bus system here is a well-oiled machine. Trains to and from Olympic Park are free.
Most of the Russians don’t speak English well, if at all, but they try. If they can’t understand you, they try to find someone who can. They want this to go well.
The Cold War is over, folks, and although Russian president Vladimir Putin puts you in the mood for 1970s, cloak-and-dagger intrigue, he may be more egomaniac than enemy. He somehow spent $51 billion on this extravaganza, taking Olympic corruption to heights never seen before.
Not everybody lives like we Americans do. You might argue that if a country gets an Olympics, it has a duty to have everything running perfectly when the competition begins. Well, get used to this. The International Olympic Committee continues to award the Games to places that might raise eyebrows — Rio de Janeiro in 2016, for example.
The Soviet era ended in 1991. That’s not so long ago. Russia’s infrastructure isn’t what ours is. Many things still look communist here, and some pampered media members are having a problem with that.
Whatever you do, please don’t tell them or @SochiProblems about the Roman Colosseum (#whatadump).