While many aspects of the Sochi Olympics have gone along less than smoothly, there has been relatively little reaction to these issues and controversies from the people in charge. This is not a particularly surprising development, given the importance of a successful Winter Olympics to the image of Vladimir Putin's Russia and the International Olympic Committee. Nevertheless, it's still a little peculiar to hear so many complaints about stray dogs, unfinished hotels, and near-cancellations of several marquee events without much in the way of a response from the people responsible for making sure the Olympics represent the highest form of each included competition.
Now, less than a week from the end of the Sochi Games, one of the major IOC officials in Sochi has spoken out on at least one of the most attention-grabbing issues in the city. From Matthew Futterman and Gregory L. White for the Wall Street Journal (via Deadspin):
In an interview, Jean-Claude Killy, the IOC's chief supervisor of the 2014 Olympics, offered the first public explanation for the rocky launch of these Games. Early arrivals here encountered unfinished hotels, unopened shops and myriad problems.
Killy, who won three Olympic gold medals skiing for France, said that despite making 40 trips to Sochi in the seven years leading up to the Games, he didn't understand the depth of the problem until last fall.
"We realized it too late," said Killy. Focused on getting the sports venues done, he added, private developers and oligarchs devoted less attention to hotel projects.
"All the alarms went up in September," Killy said. "I made a special trip. I said, 'What do we need to do?' There is no way to organize a Games if you cannot accommodate people." [...]
Killy said these risks [associated with essentially building an entire infrastructure] are necessary because the IOC has an obligation to spread its values of fair play and friendship through sports to the developing world, and to create opportunities for sports participation through the construction of world-class venues. Russia, he said, was a winter-sports nation but had little sports infrastructure.
The full piece is worth reading, if only to see Killy list the KGB alongside Harvard and Stanford degrees as proof of the credentials of Olympic organizers. He goes into some detail about the timetable in Sochi for various projects, and it's all useful background on the situation.
Through it all, Killy takes some blame for the failure, although his references to sounding alarms at least presents him as the person who saved the Sochi Olympics from utter disaster. On the surface, it's a self-serving message. Dig a little deeper, though, and it becomes hard not to wonder how anyone could have visited the city 40 times over a seven-year period and not become this concerned until five months before the opening ceremony. Even if the overall idea is that Killy and Sochi organizers got the job done, it's still baffling that things were ever allowed to get this over-budget and behind schedule in the first place.
Plus, even if Killy did make some apologies for the state of visitors' and media members' hotel rooms, this problem has been arguably the least damning of the complaints about the situation in Sochi. Various discomforts for relatively well-off reporters cannot compare to making winter sports look decidedly non-wintry or displacing citizens in the name of construction projects that largely benefit the elite members of society. While Killy can claim that the creation of Olympic infrastructure in developing nations is essential for equality, it's a very specific type of equality that often doesn't apply to many people in a host city. As much as Killy and the IOC want to be seen as the saviors of the Sochi Games, they can be given just as much blame as Russian organizers for any of these issues.
The people in power in Sochi, whether Russian or not, seem intent on defining the success of these Olympics by the extent to which participants are able to complete projects and events. Yet, as Killy says, the Olympic spirit is supposedly about values loftier than the ability to tick off tasks on a clipboard. If the Winter Olympics are being held in Sochi to further the IOC's supposed core values, then they must be judged by those same principles, not the ability to supply everyone with a shower curtain and working doors. "Faster, Higher, Stronger" is means more than that.
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