What is going wrong at the Sochi Olympics?


I’ve been watching some of the Sochi Olympics on television. They don’t talk about any of the athletes having trouble sleeping, getting food, or getting to the events. All of the technical infrastructure seems to be working. In the lead-up to this Olympics there were all kinds of articles (example; one about homeless journalists; one comparing Putin to Hilter) about what a disaster they were going to be. What if anything is going wrong in Sochi? Is there any evidence that the overall festival is running more or less smoothly than previous Olympics? The only negative that I have seen as an American TV viewer is a surprising number of empty seats at events such as figure skating (potential explanation but the most obvious one seems to be that these Olympics are being held far from any population center, e.g., a 25-hour train ride from Moscow or two-day drive).


  1. Sergy

    February 16, 2014 @ 3:42 am


    This “Love-to-Russia” is very sad. I see it very often in last years from different people and I think next 10-20 years are going to be sad for the world.

    Russia is definitely not that horrible, not Hitler-like, but it is bad country in many ways (and ordinary in the most ways). And acceptance of this bad things is very common now. “Go Russia!”

    Olympics is not an issue here, it is political culture, basic rights, corruption. I think USA is much better on all of this. USA is shitty country in many ways too, but not Russia-shitty.

    Concerning explanation for empty seats, I saw arguing with numbers that there is not enough transport infrastructure for filling these seats. Not enough seats in actual planes and trains to fill stadiums with people.

  2. Owen

    February 16, 2014 @ 5:01 am


    You could see why seats are empty by trying to price a trip to Sochi. You needed to hire a travel agency with Russian insider connections just to get a visa. Then prices are crazy expensive because of the oil boom driving up all prices in Russia. Then you need to get to Sochi which is the most desirable and exclusive place in the country.

    Even pricy Salt Lake City was much cheaper.

  3. philg

    February 17, 2014 @ 12:35 am


    Sergy: You might be right that Russia is “a bad country in many ways”. Yet that does not explain why journalists predicted that Russia would not be able to host the games competently. The articles that I link to above were not about “How is Russia, overall, as a place to live?” but about “Sochi is going to be a disaster.”

    I’m surprised that there haven’t been follow-up stories on how the reality turned out compared to the predictions. Perhaps journalists are waiting until the games are over.

  4. David Walker

    February 17, 2014 @ 6:48 am


    Phil, the simplest explanation is that news is whatever is available to journalists wherever they are at the time. Journalists arrived at Sochi about four days before the games started, and their news desks would not accept them doing nothing for four days just because not much was happening. So we got three days of stories about whatever looked like it might be a story. It happened to be “the hotels aren’t finished”. This was the only time in world history that a substantial proportion of the global media thought the efficiency of the Russian construction industry was a major story. As soon as actual sport started, however, no-one was available to write these stories and you heard nothing more about them. You never will again, either.

    I write from Melbourne, Australia. In one sense, nothing much has happened here since Japanese planes bombed Darwin (3750 kilometres north of here, but in the same country) and killed 235 people in February 1942. But the newspapers are still full of stories every day.

    Any PR manager for a future Olympics needs to bear in mind the need for journalists to fill the inconvenient gap before the games start. If all else fails, I would suggest letting loose in the village, three days before the games’ commencement, 1000 kittens. (Other cute animals will do in a pinch. You just need something more filmable than all the alternatives.)

  5. Brian

    February 17, 2014 @ 11:52 am


    I worked at 2 Olympics, Athens and Beiging/Hong Kong, and my former employer has a presence at every summer Olympics since Atlanta. Also throw in several regional Olympic like events. All locations are never really prepared for what is about to happen. Significant construction is always ongoing through the games. That said locations less tourist friendly are even worse. Purpose built housing is never up to local standards let alone international standards.

    My guess is that Sochi is the first Olympics where the journalists either ignored the embargo rules or they might not have been as strict. Add to that the existing memes about absurd Russian construction, ramps/stairs that run into walls, non ground floor doors opening to a fall, and it makes a very good story.

    So was the quality of construction as bad as journalists painted? Probably much worse. Was it worse that other Olympics? Maybe. Was it newsworthy? Definitely and it has been newsworty at many of the previous Olympics but wasn’t covered. Expect even worse stories coming from Rio. Also expect the Olympics to work through all these behind the scenes problems. It always does.

  6. Put-in

    February 18, 2014 @ 12:38 am


    RussiaToday is channel that is shown on some US TV station and youtube.
    You should search their montage on Fox, CNN, MSNBC
    criticizing Olympics create a fear scenario of Terrorism, Not Ready, Too expensive,
    Not Gay friendly, etc.

    I would imagine it was a State dept. led effort. It even lower the opinion
    of Russian and Putin in the eye of American people.

    On side note As soon as Russia leaked the US Ambassador phone conversation
    of Ukraine. They coverage only covered the curse word and not the planning
    and manipulation of the opposition and All coverage of Ukraine protest
    stopped in the US media.

  7. George

    February 20, 2014 @ 2:27 pm


    Isn’t advancement in TV and the internet a factor for the empty seats?!

    Ten years ago, TV and internet quality wasn’t as good as it is today. With HD and 60″ TV, and the comfort of my home, I can watch the Olympics as if I’m there in person without having to deal with any security issues. I will save a vacation trip to Sochi for a later time when the dust has settled.

  8. Ben

    February 27, 2014 @ 5:43 pm


    I’m late to the party on this and you may have seen your answer to the empty seats already but; CBC did a story on a family of 3 from Sochi who wanted to go to the Olympic park and go see some of the figure skating. They showed the lines you had to stand in to get passes for all of this and it was mind boggling, presumably in the name of security. I don’t remember the details but there was probably at least 9h of line standing involved.

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