Usually, the months, weeks, and days leading up to a global event like the Winter Olympics are filled with buzz and hype. Excitement normally grows progressively, reaching a fever pitch around the 100-hours-to-go mark. However, that certainly hasn’t been the case for this year’s Winter Olympics, commencing imminently in Sochi.
Controversy has enveloped the Games for months now. Initially, Russia’s questionable human rights record and Vladimir Putin’s anti-LGBTQI propaganda drew the most criticism. Then claims of an anticipated terror threat made headlines. As the Games’ commencement has drawn closer, stories of aggressive police pat downs have continued to mar what has been dubbed “Putin’s project”.
Now, as thousands of spectators flood in for the first events and the opening ceremony, a more practical problem has emerged: Sochi’s facilities might not be up to scratch. Even the International Olympics Committee has admitted that some aspects of the Olympic site and the surrounding city are worrying. Concrete pumping solutions in Australia may be readily available, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Russia.
In the run-up to February, Sochi has been virtually re-built from scratch. Existing resources were, it would seem, deemed unsuitable. Admittedly, this commitment represented a huge task for Sochi and Russia. New roads were required, plus event facilities, local business precincts, and accommodation for athletes, hangers-on, journalists and spectators. But, according to writers who have traveled to Sochi over the last few days, it is apparent that the government has not budgeted for the time or money required for such a large-scale project.
Already, unfinished building and landscaping has been agonised over in numerous publications. In short, an extra mobile batch plant or two would not go unused. Faulty electrics, leaking sewage, and dodgy plumbing also indicate a rather rushed effort, and vast garage dumps on the fringes of Sochi add to a strange atmosphere in the city. If that wasn’t enough, hundreds of stray dogs are roaming the Olympic complex. Efforts are being made to ‘dispose’ of the canines immediately, but concerns have been voiced about this being done by less-than-human means.
Questionable accommodation for journalists is one thing. Cramped and stressful living conditions for athletes, though, are quite another. Photographs have emerged of athletes’ lodgings, showing three single beds stuffed into a small room. Admittedly some athletes, such as American speedskater Chris Creveling, have voiced their approval of the facilities. Mixed sentiments are, to an extent, to be expected – first-time athletes are no doubt excited about competing, with their anticipation unaffected by less-than-ideal practicalities.
Luckily, the interiors of the Olympic venues have been completed. External concrete walkways, though, are said by some journalists to be less-than-steady – probably because the concrete isn’t totally dry. Such reports illuminate the difficulty of preparing a city for an event like the Olympics, and also signal the role that services such as Batchcrete play in any large-scale construction process.
Unfortunately, the evidence to date seems to indicate that politics and practicalities could overshadow the sporting element at Sochi. It seems very unlikely that the city will play host to a wholly celebratory atmosphere, but we can hope at least that the Australian contingent does itself proud.