Americans Don't (Care to) Know the Real Sochi

There have been many venues for the Olympic Games that have made fans question the choices of the International Olympic Commission. Squaw Valley, Melbourne, Stockholm and Helsinki are among such strange cities, but Sochi has been the real question mark for the past few months.

Photo courtesy of Presidential Press and Information Office/Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Presidential Press and Information Office/Wikimedia Commons

Sochi, the coastal, vacation destination, is one of the warmest cities to host a winter Olympics and seemed to be severely underprepared to host an event of such magnitude. However, the country was excited to showcase itself on such a grand stage.

“Putin wants the world to celebrate Russia: Russia's modernizations, Russia's wealth, Russia's achievements,” Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director and senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told NBC News.

With a $50 billion price tag, the highest cost for any Olympic Games, Putin certainly went to great lengths to demonstrate his desire to prepare.

Unfortunately, Russia’s achievements were not the only things journalists, athletes and fans noticed upon arriving in Sochi. On social media, visitors reacted to finding hotel accommodations lacking.

Photo courtesy of SochiProblems/Twitter

Photo courtesy of SochiProblems/Twitter

The twitter account @SochiProblems was made to highlight the striking and apparently humorous discoveries of journalists and athletes. Pictures were retweeted of extremely dirty tap water, missing coat racks and malfunctioning doors.

The media attention drawn by American visitors in Sochi points to an underlying insensitivity towards the serious problems Russians and those in Sochi face on a daily basis.

Apparently, even the Kremlin can’t find clean water. "Imagine, even me — rusty water also comes from my pipes. Funny, huh?" Putin said. Russians can’t drink from the sink for fear of disease and, if they can’t afford bottles, are forced to boil the tap water and risk their health.

Photo courtesy of Andrey Selskiy/Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Andrey Selskiy/Wikimedia Commons

These issues have been prevalent before the Olympic Games and may have worsened since. Journalists will suffer through a few weeks in Sochi, but Russians are facing issues that are much more long lasting.

Although hosting the Olympics is certainly perceived as an international honor, the 2014 games have been at the heart of widespread corruption in Russia, including projects associated with railway construction. Apparently, illegal dumps have been set up for Russian Railways, which have dried up the water supplies in various towns and may have compounded the drinking water issue.

Furthermore, the $50 billion budget thought to stimulate economic growth may have worked to stifle it.

“People are watching glamorous ceremonies in shabby apartments. So they will sober up quickly," said Lilia Shevtsova, senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Photo courtesy of Coat_of_Arms_of_the_Russian_Federation.svg/Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A similar situation is playing out in Brazil with the country’s preparation for the 2014 World Cup. Reports of protests, deaths and corruption are streaming through the media. In the Brazilian case as well, it becomes clear that hosting these grand events might not be the solution to a country’s economic and social issues.

Once the banners are taken down and the lights in the stadiums turned off, what will happen to Sochi? The $50 billion project was meant to improve the area, but, with so much of that budget going to individuals and private companies, the economy might not surge the way it was expected to.

In theory, the infrastructure improvements of railways, roads and power plants will boost Sochi and Russia as a whole. Between the misappropriation of money, corruption and debt, however, the ones who need the money may not see a dollar—or a ruble. Even without protests akin to those in Brazil, the end result for Sochi may be equally problematic.

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