Sochi falls short of Olympic expectations

The Sochi Olympics came to a close Sunday with the host nation celebrating a win in the overall medal count, buoyed by strong (if not marred by judging controversy) finishes in figure skating. Thankfully, despite prior fears, there were no terrorist attacks or night kidnappings of gay Olympians such as openly gay speedskater and gold medalist Ireen Wust of the Netherlands.

The Olympics is a unique event that brings the eyes of the entire world to one country. But Russia could not even put its best foot forward for the three weeks it was in the spotlight; imagine how horrifying day-to-day life is in Russia.

A PolicyMic article shared by several Washington University students criticized the Sochi Problems meme created after journalists experienced issues with their hotel accommodations. The article highlighted how Western journalists poking fun at Russia’s failure to complete Olympic accommodations in a timely manner actually represents a failure by Western journalists to recognize serious issues within Russian society. If anything, though, it highlights the poor conditions in Russia, not the privilege of the Americans visiting the country. Colorless water from a hotel in a beach resort where a world-class event is being held is not an example of privilege—it’s a reasonable expectation.

The Olympic Games represent a chance for the host nation to highlight its beauty, power and capabilities. Over the last few decades, the Olympics has offered newly modernized nations a chance to showcase their progress and show the world they ought to be taken seriously. Russia failed to do this. In many senses, these games were more poorly organized than the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow when the Soviet Union was still in power. Instead of spotlighting the growth of the Russian Federation, the 2014 Olympics showed how conditions have degraded—or, at the very least, not improved much—since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

With the world looking on, Russia flubbed the landing, to speak in Olympic parlance. Vladimir Putin failed to show Russia in its best light—or even a mediocre light. It was entirely reasonable for journalists from anywhere in the world to expect potable water, heat and beds to sleep in during an international celebration of human achievement and progress. Everyone attending the Sochi Games, athletes and journalists and spectators alike, were expecting more from Russia, as they would from any other country hosting the Olympics. Journalists reporting on the poor living conditions were not doing so to mock Russian citizens but to highlight their plight.

The Russians were able to show a bit of self-deprecation in the closing ceremony, making fun of their Olympic ring gaffe from the opening ceremony. But from basic human rights abuses to Sochi Problems, this Olympics illuminated just how much Russia has to work on.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.