Sochi Olympics Sounding More and More Like a Death Trap


I’ve never been obsessed with the Olympics to the point that I’d buy officially licensed Olympic gear; however, I have been an enthusiastic viewer of the Olympics to the point that sometimes I have nightmares that are narrated by Elfi Schlegel. But in the build up to these Sochi Winter Games, now less than 2 weeks away, my normal Olympian excitement has been replaced with looming dread. And I’m not alone.

Exhibit A: the travel alert the US Government issued Americans back on January 10th.

Exhibit B: this incredibly pessimistic, but fear-validating Sally Jenkins piece from the Washington Post, which sums up a lot of what other outlets have been hinting at with an added dollop of rage. Jenkins, like me, is worried about visitors, athletes, and ordinary Russians unfortunate enough to live near the Olympian snarl. But, unlike me, she’s advanced past the “vague, amorphous, unnamed fear” stage to the “full on pissed off over the tragedy she sees as pretty much inevitable and ongoing” phase. Take it away, Ms. Jenkins,

IOC officials have long collaborated with plunderers, and treated human rights abuses as acceptable if it meant good commerce, regardless of the harm: In Beijing, dissidents were arrested and tortured for refusing to support the Games. But the IOC’s amoral stupidity and avarice finally may have peaked in Sochi. Activists have been jailed; homeowners evicted without compensation; 25 construction workers have died at stadium sites; illegal dumps of toxic construction waste have ruined local drinking water and caused homes to sink; and Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister, alleges up to $30 billion has been stolen in preparing for the Games. Now we can add $3 billion in security costs to the price of hosting this festival of malevolence and greed.

Shorter version: the IOC, Vladimir Putin, and all the corporate interests that stand to make a boatload of money from the Games couldn’t give a flying fuck about the people they’re screwing over.

Jenkins elaborates the myriad ways the Olympics in Sochi have already been a failure — hundreds of millions of dollars stolen by kleptocrats, $50 billion spent on facilities, and emboldened terrorists, relishing the international attention, have become more and more vocal with their threats. To make matters worse, Jenkins adds, the massive amount of security needed for the Games has proven a drain on other parts of Russia, where serious clashes involving separatist groups are killing people. And that’s before we even begin discussing all the “keep the gays away from the children” nonsense.

Jenkins notes that it’s too late now for Russia to just cancel the thing, so the best we can hope is that it doesn’t turn from a disaster to a tragedy. Morose? Hell yes. But unfounded? Probably not. Here’s more Olympic anxiety for the kids watching at home:

…the staging of the Sochi Games has become a contest of wills between Putin and the insurgents, with innocents squarely in the crossfire. The IOC is wholly responsible for this: It should have denied Putin the internal prestige he craves, while depriving the insurgents of a major target, by removing the Games when it was still politically and logistically possible.

At the very least, I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling an anxious tightness in my chest every time NBC airs an Olympic promo that’s supposed to be majestic. Even that Bounty ad with Julie Chu, the American hockey player, makes me dread how the footage might be used if tragedy strikes the team, or spectators, or Russian citizens who want nothing to do with the Games but are swept up in their repercussions anyway. And today, when Team USA unveiled their god-awful opening ceremony outfits (sweaters that would make a great gift for that nursing home-bound great aunt you feel terrible about never visiting), I caught myself imagining an injured athlete or spectator clad in a factory-knit USA Sunday School Teacher sweater.

And as much as I love a good Johnny Weir flourish or bobsled celebration or super slow mo high def shot of a speed skater falling down, I’m inclined to agree. I love figure skating costumes and inscrutable, over the top Opening Ceremony displays as much as the next sucker for schmaltz, but future Campbell’s Soup and Nike ad fodder is not worth people’s lives.

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