The Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia have been clouded in controversy for months. First, by the alleged corruption involved in securing the Olympics for Sochi, then by the well-publicized discrimination and oppression of LGBTQ individuals in Russia and those coming to the games. But once the reporters began arriving in Russia, another talking point made its way into the spotlight and blocked out many of the others: The conditions in the hotels in the Olympic village.
The news started mainly through tweets from reporters as they arrived at hotels missing lobbies, floors, running water, keys and more, as well as hotels not actually finished, so reserved rooms were not actually built yet. One tweet from Stacy St. Clair of the Chicago Tribune on February 3 read, “My hotel has no water. If restored, the front desk says, ‘do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous.’ #Sochi2014.” This was followed by many reporters’ twitpics of the amber-colored water from the hotel taps. These initial tweets were followed by more stories about hotel issues from reporters and athletes, including one from US bobsledder Johnny Quinn, who tweeted on February 7: “I was taking a shower and the door got locked/jammed…With no phone to call for help, I used my bobsled push training to break out. #SochiJailBreak” with an accompanying twitpic of the broken door, Kool-Aid man style. Three days later, on February 10, Quinn tweeted again, saying, “No one is going to believe this but we just got stuck in an elevator.”
In a similar vein, Canadian National Post reporter Sean Fitz-Gerald live-tweeted his experience on February 7 as he tried to get into his room after the keys were changed for no apparent reason. This experience included shuffling from hotel to hotel, watching workers at the front desk searching through shoeboxes filled with room keys and waiting to be told none of them would work, watching a handyman try to get him into his room and fail until a worker found the magic key – over three hours after he first discovered that his key no longer worked.
Sarah Kaufman, a writer for PolicyMic—an online platform focused on politics, arts and entertainment, entrepreneurship and world news—talked about why the focus on the daily fiascos at the Olympic Village is a problem. She pointed out that these are troubles that will end for the reporters, while Russians must cope with the same problems every day. About the amber tap water, Kaufman said, “Only around half of Russians had access to drinking water that met reasonable health standards in 2002, according to Jean Lemierre, the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.” About the daily issues in the poorly built hotels, Kaufman explained that 70,000 workers had been denied wages as well as basic human rights. She went on to say, “As Ukrainian worker Maxim told Human Rights Watch about his experience in construction for the Olympics: ‘People work, they don’t get paid, and leave. Then a bus comes and unloads a fresh group of workers to repeat the cycle.’”
So, it is true that reporters and athletes are living in unsanitary and sometimes unsafe conditions. But they will leave when the Games are over. The Russian people and workers must continue to live with these unsanitary conditions, such as the polluted water, and with corrupt corporations that can simply not pay their laborers and bring in new workers. And as the bright spotlight continues to shine on the snafus plaguing the journalists or the technical difficulties of the opening ceremony, remember the people who will not leave at the end of the Games, for whom oppression and poor living conditions are a part of daily life. Remember that the corruption, discrimination, and oppression do not end with the games, and we must continue to shine a spotlight not on the problems faced by journalists, but on those faced by people every day.