What I Saw at the Sochi Olympics — and Discovered About Russia
Emily Dunham /
SOCHI, Russia — In the days leading up to the opening ceremony of the Olympics, the media had little to report except for #SochiProblems, like hotels without lobbies and public bathrooms without toilet partitions. These truthful reports caused real concerns about whether or not Russia was truly ready for the Winter Games.
A day before the closing ceremony, it seems that the Games have been largely successful. However, much of the success should be attributed to Olympic sponsors and partners.
Seven years ago, when the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2014 Winter Games to Sochi, there were no sports venues, no ski resort, and no transportation system. The committee gave Russia the Games in order to leave behind a legacy of a world-class ski resort and a developed tourist destination.
Along with the gift of hosting the Games came required partnerships with international Olympic sponsors like Coca Cola, Dow, GE, Atos, Omega, and others. Many of these sponsors have been on the ground for several years preparing for the Games. GE delivered all of the electrical and transportation infrastructure required for the Olympic Park, the new high-speed train system, and the mountain venues. Omega provided the systems to time and score the competitions; Atos was responsible for systems integration and live communication links between the venues and the rest of the world.
The Olympic Park, the venues, and transportation hubs were swimming in Sochi volunteers, who were friendly and ready to help. However, volunteerism is not a part of the Russian culture, and so in order to have an adequate workforce, many of the “volunteers” were taken from Russian universities and told that they must work in Sochi in order to graduate. Another sponsor of the Winter Games was Contemporary International, a Canadian event-management company, which was responsible for developing the volunteer training, venue manager training, and crowd management plans for the Games.
Of the $51 billion that Russia spent on these Games, a significant portion went to bribery and corruption. No-bid contracts were awarded to Vladimir Putin’s friends at excessive cost.
Many of the venues were still under construction in the weeks leading up to the Games, though they were scheduled to be complete months before. The roof of Fisht Stadium, which houses the opening and closing ceremonies, was constructed poorly and hastily; the ski jumping venue is reportedly sliding slowly down the hill; and at the Sanki Sliding Center the signage is held together with duct tape and retaining walls are visibly sagging.
Imagine if the Russians were not required to use companies like GE, Omega, and Atos. Electricity, accurate event results, and live communications must be done accurately and expertly for the Games to be successful.
Luckily for Olympic athletes and spectators, Putin was not able to use friends and cronies in the place of Olympic sponsors.