Monday, January 27, 2014

That's So Chi

We are about 2 1/2 weeks out from the Opening Ceremony. On February 6, we will all see Sochi... well, the intent is always to introduce the host city to the world, show it off in the best possible light, all gleaming and shiny and don't you want to come here and spend money and be unusually receptive to the ideas of the local politicians?

The thing is, in this day and age, the host of the Olympics, and the World Cup for that matter, gets introduced fairly thoroughly throughout the course of the preparation process, beginning with the day they're awarded hosting duties. Immediately, a years-long process begins where people from all over the world pick the place apart, judging exactly how well their pre-existing infrastructure is put together with the aim of trying to guess how stadium and hotel construction is going to go, as well as public transportation to get people to the games. People will bring up any local laws that might reflect poorly on the area's ability to welcome the wide variety of cultures from around the globe that will be arriving not just to watch, but to compete. People will take note of any areas near host stadiums that they figure will probably be swept clear of poor people so the visitors don't see them, especially if the poor people are living in an area that's designated to house an actual as-yet-unbuilt stadium. People will see the lengths the organizers will go to in order to solve their problems, or failing that, to sweep them under the rug. And they can bring any of it up at any time they choose over the course of seven years in the case of the Olympics, and potentially even longer in the case of the World Cup, because it's never old news. It's far too much time to keep problems swept under the rug. By the time the event actually arrives, people know the deal with the place.

This close to the event, people can have a look at the place and get a pretty good idea of how ready the host is, because this is about the point where, if you're not ready, you basically have no choice but to admit that you're going to have to go without whatever it is that's not ready. This is the part where all you can really do between now and then is start adding whatever gloss will hide the ugly parts of town so it isn't shown live on global television.

Sounds like a perfect time to drop by Sochi. This photo gallery went up om about 23 hours ago. Another gallery that Miriam Elder posted on Buzzfeed in October concurs with the basic message: Sochi has spent some $51 billion (the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing cost $40 billion) on... what, exactly? Cracked and often outright missing sidewalks, massive amounts of Pardon-Our-Dust-style corrugated fences lining the streets behind which sit mountains of rubble and uncut lumber and not-even-remotely-close-to-finished buildings, ditches, bare fields where there ought to be grass, dirt spraypainted green to simulate grass, unpaved roads that are little more than mudholes, potholes, trash everywhere... and some isolated showpiece buildings that already have their gloss applied.

And there isn't a snowflake in sight.

Good luck with that "introduction" in a couple weeks, Sochi. You'll need it.

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