#SochiProblems? More like a Sochi Disaster…

by cindybrugge

Before the Olympics began, we were already worried about the host city, Sochi, Russia. First, reports of the anti-gay laws led to concerns of Olympic interference. Would it affect guests of the games? Should gay athletes boycott? After that uproar quieted, rumors of terrorist threats leaked out and again the world worried about the fate of the Sochi Olympics. At this point, I thought it impossible to hear more bad news before the games began. However, a week before the opening ceremonies, Twitter blew up with photos and reports of living conditions in Sochi. Tweets featuring #SochiProblems were making their way around the world with photos depicting a city not prepared for thousands of tourists. Now, only two weeks later, @SochiProblems has nearly 350,000 followers on Twitter. Although the actual competitions have gone fairly well, these initial snafus might be more memorable than the medals won. It makes one wonder, “Was it a PR mistake to bring the Olympics to Sochi?

Major sports tournaments, like the World Cup and the Olympics, are an opportunity to bring international attention to a country. For each Olympics, countries bid for the opportunity to host the games. The battle for this honor is very competitive because many countries recognize how much money they can bring in with tourism during the games. However, for smaller and sometimes overlooked countries it is also an opportunity to say, “Hi guys! I do still exist.”

I believe this is the case for Sochi. As a typical American young woman, I don’t view Russia with warm and fuzzy feelings. Here’s what comes to mind when I think of Russia:

  1. Vodka: Did you know that “one in five men die from alcohol related causes”?
  2. Ice-cold, ass-freezing snow: It’s really cold there. Really really cold.
  3. The Cold War: I just imagine KGB spies with thick accents plotting against America.
  4. Speaking of Russian accents… They may not actually hate all Americans but their accents scare me so badly that I am convinced that they do.
  5. Great Russian Literature and Cinema: These beautiful stories like Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago paint a cruel world that lovers must overcome. The setting is usually really snowy and in the middle of a government crisis.

By bringing the Olympics to Sochi, I believe that the Russian government was aiming to bring out international excitement for its country. If the rest of the world is anything like me, then it’s going to be a big leap because I am genuinely afraid of Russia. However, the Russian government hasn’t just begun with the Olympics. They have been taking steps toward image recovery for quite some time and they are doing pretty well.

Russian President Putin is known for his attempts to bring Russia back into the international arena. His actions have definitely not been overlooked. With Syrian issues and the Edward Snowden crisis, Americans especially have noticed him flexing his political muscles. In fact, he was named Forbes #1 Most Powerful Person of 2013. He has made moves to claim power for his country, and as they rise to power he has also worked to create positive public relations for the country. Therefore, hosting the Winter Olympics was a major boost to his plan to launch Russia into success.

After winning the bid, the Russian government took to preparing Sochi for the mass influx of people. The estimated $50 billion spent makes this the most expensive Olympic games in history. Sochi went from a nearly third world country to an Olympic destination.

sochi before and after 2

This is a before and after photo of Sochi,
taken from Business Insider.

In the process millions were spent, but the final product was far from what was expected by Western reporters. Weeks before the games, as journalists began arriving, the world got a taste of what to expect at the games. Pictures of yellowed tap water and incomplete portions of construction in hotels covered social media.

yellow

These photos were endless and unbelievable to Americans, who expect better of some of our lowest quality hotels. It immediately shattered any illusion of the up-and-coming world power that Russia claims to be. The hashtag, #SochiProblems, became so popular that it was all that we were seeing of the country. This great public relations opportunity had proven to be possibly the biggest waste of $50 billion in the world.

In response to our tweets, there was talk of #SochiProblems pointing out a bigger problem in the west. Some Russians say that western delight in the issues facing Russia was unacceptable and insensitive. They said that this “malicious glee” poked fun of the daily lifestyle of many Russians.

Regardless if it seemed like it’s just westerners making cruel jokes, #SochiProblems has highlighted the real problems in Russia. It emphasized how disturbing and chaotic the building process was. One article explained that many of the problems came from poor working conditions. Many Russians would work and when they didn’t receive a paycheck they would understandably desert the project. However, new unemployed workers were just waiting to take their place. With a constant shift of untrained workers, many of the projects were poorly directed and the final product was incomplete.

So, the question arises. Was it enough to just bring attention to Russia? Will it improve their international standing, by being in the public eye? Or, have social problems in Sochi reiterated the country as a distant location that’s cold, unpleasant and inhospitable to strangers?

It’s a question that doesn’t exactly have an answer. Was it bad for the country? Probably not. Far worse disasters have overcome Olympic games in the past. Was it a good decision? Not necessarily. It has left a considerable amount of debt and many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of a Russian vacation. However, it may have created some nationalistic pride within the country and generated further support for Putin. All in all? It’s a toss up. We will just have to wait and see how it pans out for the country.

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