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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How Westernized Should the Olympics Be?

I've never been to the Olympics. Friends of mine and I talked about going to the 2012 summer games in London but something about paying over £100 for a swimming event didn't sit well with me (and then the most expensive tickets to the Opening Ceremonies were £2012. No, thank you).

The closest I've been to an Olympic event (aside from my childhood annual visits to Lake Placid - winter host in 1932 and 1980) was when I visited Athens, Greece in June 2004 following my study abroad program. It was two months before the games were set to start and - from the current reports - it appears they were more prepared for the Olympics then than Sochi is now, just a couple days out before the Opening Ceremony.
(Greek Olympic venue, 2004)

Reporters on Twitter are doing a great job and reporting what they're experiencing which has included yellow water, no flooring in their hotel, a lack of a lobby so they had to "check in" at the property's landlord, and some of the toilets are such that they cannot flush toilet paper.

I think my boyfriend's succinct thoughts go a long way: "It's Russia. What do you expect?"

While I do not fully agree, he has a point. What did people expect?

From my part, I would expect a safe city with adequate infrastructure to sustain the thousands of tourists expected for the games that will spur the local economy. So, yes, floors, a fully-assembled Olympic hub, and finished hotels would be nice. The rest is technically not necessary for anyone not used to American standards - and, unlike the Super Bowl/World Championship and World Series, it's the Olympics so it's not just about the U.S.

 (a Turkish toilet - which, I'm told is what to expect to much of Asia/ and a toilet in St. Thomas that doesn't allow TP)

I've been in countries both in this hemisphere, but especially Asia (where Russia is located), where the plumbing just cannot sustain flushing toilet paper, and where drinking water needs to be purchased in bottles instead of consumed from the tap (heck, we're wary about the water in our South Troy apartment). Though, water being unsafe to bathe in is pretty sketchy. And many countries - even first world countries - have issues with stray cats and dogs.

(From the Twitterfeed of Stacy St. Clair, Chicago Tribune Reporter)

To clarify, I am *not* in favor of "disposing" of these poor animals as has been reported. The situation reminded me of my trip to Greece nearly a decade ago. While touring the nearby Greek Islands, our tour guide said that officials in Athens were displacing the strays to nearby islands so the streets in the city would look clean for the influx of visitors. Unfortunately, I'm sure they did worse things to the dogs and cats that year.

(from my 2004 trip, showing some stray cats - sorry about the quality. It was before I used digital cameras)

Back then, the stray animal issue was not covered as much as the animal rights issue in Sochi today. I can't help but think this has something - maybe everything - to do with the increase over the years in social media. Facebook was just in its infancy back then. Nowadays, if residents or tourists see something suspicious they can easily post it to Twitter or Facebook and then see if others are noticing the same.

I truly appreciate the Twitter posts in recent days that have resulted in shared experiences of #SochiProblems. To the journalists covering the Olympics, while I feel for you, this is all about perspective. I think the Olympics, at its root, is about learning about new cultures, not seeing how well they conform to western standards.

Stay Calm, Report on the Olympics, and Have a Vodka. And at least I'm not the only one who thinks the tweets should be put into perspective.

All this said, I don't know if I agree with Russia hosting the games, given the above issues, the noted gay controversy in the country, and the possible terrorism. I think, at this point, all we can do is hope for safe events and competitions for the athletes, the tourists and the reporters.


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