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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Unwarranted Criticism of Sochi Olympics

Benjamin Bidder has an op-ed at Spiegel Online suggesting that Westerners ought to lay off the criticism of the Sochi Olympics. He notes that he had made late arrangements to get a hotel in Sochi, and ended up with a literally bug infested room. But he got things squared away.
The hotel I'm now staying in has even hired a pianist to play during breakfast. The trains to Sochi are free. Indeed, this city is making a real effort for its visitors and you'd pretty much have to close both eyes not to see that the Russians here are doing their best to welcome the world.

Unfortunately, the world is too busy posting its images of dread from Russia. Indeed, the criticism has lost any measure of proportionality. It is true that the Olympics are Vladimir Putin's pet project. This modern day czar wanted the games, and he ordered a massive, $50 billion effort to make sure they happened in Sochi. Corruption and poor planning drove costs to dizzying heights. Considerable environmental damage has been caused and construction workers have been exploited. Putin has also done his best to stir up sentiment against gays.

But Russia has not earned the schadenfreude that bubbles up each time another broken door knob or damaged park bench is discovered. Whatever doesn't fit into the narrative is forced in nonetheless. ...

... Even if most Sochi bashing is directed at Putin, it still hits all Russians. Olympic fever is rampant in Russia and 69 percent of those surveyed are pleased about the games, with two out of three following the events on television. Even Russians who protested two years ago against Putin's return to the Kremlin feel the criticism is excessive. They are very aware of corruption and environmental damage. What they are sensitive about right now, though, is the constant and unfair barrage of ridicule from the West.

The Russians are perplexed by the world, and it's not their fault. They're celebrating a party in Sochi. But we're the party poopers waiting for any chance we can find to say: "Haha, the Russians have screwed up again!"
I have to agree that the gloating over every problem discovered has been carried to an extreme. I suspect it is because the liberal media is upset over the anti-gay stance that Russia has taken. But one could walk around Western cities and find examples of stupid mistakes aplenty in construction projects, or other problems. For instance, the bed-bug problem in New York City is so bad, that there are now registries to check for infestations. (See also here). And let's not forget the 47-story building in Spain that was built without any elevators.

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