Nevertheless, the 2014 Winter Olympics opens tonight in Sochi, Russia, a Black Sea resort city that has quickly become the international symbol for everything corrupt, inadequate, unfinished, embarrassing, immoral and incompetent.
Some of that criticism is likely unfair, because reporters — particularly sports reporters — are prone to exaggerations. Reporters, wireless Internet, active Twitter feeds and jet lag can be a dangerous combination.
It’s clear that the 2014 Games are starting with hardly the glamor Russian officials envisioned when they began preparing for this week seven years ago. Uncle Vlad — Russian President Vladimir Putin — surely isn’t pleased.
In no particular order, reputable media reports from Sochi say:
• Some hotel rooms don’t have running water.
• Those that do may have water so polluted that it looks like urine.
• Stray dogs in the city are in danger of being shot so that visitors don’t witness Sochi’s overwhelming animal population.
• Construction of several Olympic buildings, including the vital transportation hub in Sochi, wasn’t finished until earlier this week.
• And immigrant construction workers who have toiled on the massive Olympic building project in Sochi have been deported without being paid.
If these Olympics go off without a real hitch, those issues will be overshadowed by the athletes who’ve dedicated their lives to seek the gold. This is their time. It will be fun to watch.
As for Putin, he is learning how impossible it is to stage-manage international reaction when you invite the world into your home. Once there, everything is on display, even skeletons hurriedly hidden in the closet. You can’t completely hide ideology and human suffering.
Putin’s Russia is one of repression, oppression, distrust and secrecy, an ugly throwback to part of its Stalinist Soviet past. Harshness along its southern borders — near Sochi — has led to years of bloodshed in the Caucuses and terrorism throughout the nation. Russians outside the mainstream, such as gays and lesbians, are subjected to demeaning laws that foment hostility against them and their supporters. Human rights in Russia are on the decline.
How ironic it will be if the legacy of these Russian Olympics — that nation’s first winter Games — is the spotlight shined on Russia’s social and governmental problems. If that happens, Uncle Vlad will have no one to blame but himself. He opened his home, invited us to come in, and we didn’t like what we saw.