The Winter Olympics begin Friday, my favourite Olympics. I much prefer the winter sports to the summer, and not just because Canadians tend to be better medal-wise, and my favourite sport — curling — is featured.
I have just always thought the Winter Olympics were a kinder, friendlier Olympics, perhaps more indicative of the Olympic spirit than the heavily-commercialized Summer Games.
Yes, you have the hockey pros and the glamorous figure skaters who exist in rarified air, but then you have the athletes who toil in obscurity most of the time. Your lugers and your bobsled teams and, yes, your curlers (they may be household names in Canada, but nowhere else) who are simply thrilled to be at the Games. The Winter Games just seem nicer.
And then they awarded the Winter Games to Russia.
Kinder and gentler are not two words you think of in anything related to Vladimir Putin, who appears to have staked his reputation — nay, his very manliness — on these games. He has also staked $50 billion. $50 billion! That’s what the Sochi Games have cost. To put it in perspective, the Vancouver Games cost $7 billion and we weren’t happy with that.
But apparently $50 billion doesn’t really buy you much in Russia.
Stories of corruption and pay offs running wild in Sochi are legion.
The world’s journalists are descending on Sochi this week and #Sochiproblems is trending on Twitter.
Journalists are tweeting pictures of yellow water and complaining of no water.
“My hotel has no water,” tweeted a Chicago Tribune journalist. “If restored, the front desk says, ‘Do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous.”
Oh, that’s reassuring.
Some journalists found this advice in their bathrooms: “Please do not flush toilet paper down the toilet! Put it in the bin provided.”
In Russia, $50 billion can’t buy you a properly flushing toilet. It can, however, buy you a nice sign with instructions on toilet use, including “No fishing.” That Putin is such a stickler for propriety. If you can’t toilet fish, what are you supposed to do with your spare time?
And some bathrooms have two toilets (???). And also no shower curtains.
Another tweeted that he lost his hotel key and the hotel didn’t have a replacement key, so they removed his door.
Reports say six of the nine hotels slated for journalists are not finished. Much landscaping needs to be done on the grounds as well.
There are also reports that the millionaire NHL stars will be expected to sleep three to a room on beds slightly higher-quality than cots. I’m guessing the Russian national hockey team will have slightly better accommodations.
In short, there are some very, very big problems to solve in the next 24 hours or so.
But Putin doesn’t want the world focusing on the negative. He wants you to focus on the positive, namely himself.
We all know Putin sees himself as hero material. He is constantly showing the world pictures of himself performing daring deeds of macho accomplishment — from hang gliding to hunting to playing hockey. That’s the image he wants the world to have of him, the master of all he surveys. Tsar of land where men are men and women are women — which is causing problems of another sort for these Games. Putin’s anti-gay stand is less than popular with almost all the countries sending athletes to these Games.
A joke making the rounds is that the motto of these Games is “Faster, Higher, Straighter.”
That’s the real problem for Putin — jokes. If there is one thing he doesn’t want to be, could not bear to be, it’s being the butt of a joke.
And when the lead in to your Games — the Games you are stamping with your name — is any number of jokes about poor quality accommodations, corruption and what appears to be complete mismanagement of a giant project, that’s a problem. A Putin-sized problem.
Even if Putin leads in the Russian athletes, shirtless, astride a white steed, I don’t think #Putinistheman is going to be trending on Twitter.
Carolyn Grant is Editor of the Kimberley Daily Bulletin