Monday, February 17, 2014

End the Olympic Farce

Sochi introduced a new Winter Olympic event this year--the feral three-legged dog race. There’s no prize for the winner, but all the losers are shot.

But seriously. The city of Sochi had a problem with wild dogs. They were everywhere. One of them
wandered onto the Fisht Stadium field during rehearsal for the opening ceremonies. Authorities had a choice either to shoot them or poison them. They chose to poison them. Now there are dead dogs everywhere, which is much better. You can pet them and they won't bite.

Sochi is a strange place to hold the Winter Olympics. It's a subtropical climate where it rarely ever gets below 37 degrees. And even though it is the largest resort city in Russia, it must have been a dump. Even after all fixing it up, it was still a dump. When they arrived, athletes and journalists were appalled at the hotel conditions—brown toxic tap water (if there was water at all), missing door knobs, bizarre toilet arrangements (a cultural feature they should have changed), tiny beds, and various things falling apart or in mid-construction. The International Olympic Committee looks into these details very carefully. Was someone bribed or threatened? If so, it must have been quite a bribe. I mean, we know that goes on, but we usually end up with a plausible location. But a terrorist-rich, subtropical Stalin-era resort city with ridiculous toilet culture?

Sochi is the most expensive Olympics ever, whether Summer or Winter—$10 billion more than the previous record holding 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. At $51 billion, Sochi has been more expensive than all previous Winter Olympics combined. Much of the $51 billion cost for Sochi has been the cost of building most of it from scratch--plus corruption and Putin's Ring of Steel to defend against the terrorist threats in this predominantly Muslim Caucasus region.

And why do we even have the Olympics anymore? Does it bring us together in world peace? After over 116 years, there is still no evidence of that. Besides, there are international sports competitions for everything. The Olympics are politicized and involve ridiculous expenditures, often human rights abuses—bulldozing people’s homes and sweeping away the poor like they were so much litter—and even environmental destruction. A German publication reports that a highway and a railway were “cut through Sochi National Park - a nature reserve with world heritage status.”

But the Olympics will remain with us because, regardless of what happens to everyone else, a few powerful people make a lot of money by arranging and staging them.

If we must keep them, we should have the Winter Olympics permanently in Switzerland and the Summer Olympics in Athens where they began. The facilities are already there. There will be no political theater and minimal corruption. But even that would involve international co-operation and good will which does not seem to be in the spirit of the Olympics.