By Niles Wimber
The Sochi Olympic Games have been fairly unusual from Olympics past due to the wild fear mongering about terrorist attacks on the Games themselves (even though the rest of Russia is what’s threatened). They’ve also been under scrutiny due to Russia’s new anti-gay activism laws and the very under-whelming accommodations for foreigners. These three topics have been widely covered in the media but as always, there are a few key things that they just so happen to leave out.
First of all are the terror threats to the Olympic venues. This article here does an admirable job of providing an in-depth look at what’s the problem and what Russia has done to fix it; in short, deploying a massive 100,000 man army of police and military units to lock down the whole area. While this will of course make the centrally defended areas around the Olympic Village and stadiums quite secure, this leaves many surrounding areas at risk. In fact, such heavy security may be Russia’s Achilles heel: when you have almost a third of the pre-Olympics population added on by security staff alone, that’s gonna leave some neighboring cities a little short-handed.
On a different note, foreign concern about security has been rivaled by outrage over Russia’s new anti-gay activism law. Recently, Russia’s parliament unanimously passed a law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors. This was very much panned in the Western media as being a step back for human rights; even Google did a rainbow Google Doodle as a statement. There were also calls for protests and/or boycotts by the athletes and officials. I’d like to point out something that has seemingly been missed by everybody else: this isn’t some Nazi-esque act by Vladimir Putin to attack a minority. This is a response to overwhelming domestic public opinion against the gay/lesbian movement. That link leads to research showing almost three-fourths of the Russian people saying society should reject homosexuality. Additional research shows social vices like drinking and extramarital affairs being considered more socially acceptable. Seems like an obvious choice for Russian lawmakers.
On a similar note, I’m glad that the threatened boycotts were limited to President Obama’s personal boycott. My reasoning? The Russian people have a tradition of hospitality to guests, starting with a simple offering of refreshments like tea and cookies. Turning down this hospitality even with the best of intentions (such as saving a poor host some money) is deeply offensive. A general US boycott against a popular measure that most Russians support would have been seen as a great slight over a trivial (to them) non-issue.
Speaking of hospitality, let’s look at those unfinished accommodations that everyone’s been griping about. A funny story I heard was about Johnny Quinn (on the bobsled team) getting stuck in his bathroom and his hotel’s elevator in less than a week. I can sympathize with him because, during my time in Russia, I’ve been both stuck in an elevator and had to rescue other people from a different elevator. To make a long story short, this chronic under-preparedness can be traced back to Russia’s communist history severely damaging the public work ethic to the point that widespread effects are still felt today.
I’ll personally attest to this with a story: one day the power went out in my apartment in Russia. We called the landlord and he responded, albeit several hours later. He determined that there was a short in the circuit breaker box and that an electrician could replace it. However, no electricians would accept rush jobs without some kind of “extra incentive” so he put in an alternate solution:
That solution was removing the breakers and straight piping the wires around the short using a shoe-horn tied in place with a plastic shopping bag. Not at all flammable, right? By the way, no electrician ever came in the remaining two weeks I stayed there.
Overall, I’d just like to say that the Sochi Olympic games are probably the best run games in existence, judging the hurdles that they’ve leaped to come this far. I just wish the news media would tell the far more interesting backstory that goes along with it.