This week, athletes, journalists, dignitaries, and spectators from around the world are converging on Sochi, Russia for the Winter Olympic Games, which officially kicks off tomorrow. The entire world is fixing its eyes on the subtropical Black Sea resort city, and what do they see?
A total clusterf**k, that's what. The place is just not ready.
We're already well aware of Russia's disgusting anti-LGBT human rights abuses, the real risk of terrorist attacks, and the region's questionable ability to handle the medical needs of its Olympic guests. But according to a flurry of new reports over the past few days, the problems don't stop there. Basics like hotels, facilities, and even drinking water are said to be in appalling condition.
I will endeavor to round up as many crazy reports from Russia as possible, after the jump.
Bring Your Own Doorknobs, Flooring, Drinking Water...
Journalists checking into their hotels encountered conditions that can only be described as appalling. Business Insider reports:
While the main venues and Olympic Village are finished, the area around the Olympic Park and a number of hotels are effectively construction zones, according to widespread reports...
Combined with the travel nightmares we're seeing from a variety of journalists, there's a growing impression that Sochi is not fully ready for the Olympics, despite spending a record ~$50 billion to stage the games.
Chicago Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair's hotel did not have running water when she checked in on Monday. She said on Twitter that the front desk had a cautionary sign warning patrons that if the water was restored, "do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous."
A little while later the dangerous face water was "restored" -- and it looked like this:
Needless to say, St. Clair washed her face with bottled water.
BBC Moscow Acting Bureau Chief Kevin Bishop arrived at his hotel Tuesday to find that the lobby had no floor. But it did have this charming photograph of Vladimir Putin:
As of yesterday, the front desk (pictured above) had a laptop and computer... but there was still no floor. And no receptionist, for that matter.
This was CNN sports producer Harry Reekie's room:
Some hotels have been having wifi issues...
Some other highlights:
Canadian reporter Bryce Arthur describes the Sochi facilities thusly:
Almost every room is missing something: lightbulbs, TVs, lamps, chairs, curtains, wifi, heat, hot water. Shower curtains are a valuable piece of the future black market here. (One American photographer was simply told, "You will not get a shower curtain.")...
German photographer Joerg Reuter arrived in the mountains and found the first room offered to him to be full of construction debris, with yellow-brown water and appliances that didn't work. The next room had construction workers still sleeping in it. The third room had a stray dog in it. Reuter was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "When I came out of the elevator, there was the dog. I said, 'Right, that's it.'"
In the Ekaterininsky Kvartal hotel, the elevator is broken and the stairway is unlit, with stairs of varying and unpredictable heights.
Outside the Chistya Prudy, there is a bag of concrete in a palm tree, leaking grey down the trunk. Inside, some of the electrical outlets are just plates screwed into drywall.
Sports Illustrated's Brian Cazeneuve had to clamber through a window to get out of his hotel on Tuesday morning, since the doors were all unexpectedly locked. Chris Stevenson of Sun Media was without electricity for the first day.
But Arthur's most disgusting story involves bodily fluids:
"[One] journalist in the Omega hotel complex had to refuse a colleague's request to stay a night in the second twin bed because ... well, there's no easy way to say this, but when the first journalist arrived, someone had left an indeterminate amount of semen on the sheets of the second bed, and those sheets had been taken away for cleaning, and hadn't come back."
Infrastructure in the area is in woeful disarray, with half-completed buildings swathed in canvas, shoddy construction that's already breaking down, and piles of trash everywhere.
Don't Even Ask About the Toilets
The toilets in Sochi deserve a section of their own. We've already seen the delightful shared stalls at the Biathlon Center consisting of two toilets with no divider and only one toilet paper dispenser between them. But we're just getting started.
The toilets have become a major source of embarrassment for Russian authorities, who have come up with a series of ridiculous excuses for them (It's actually a storage closet! They're meant for disabled athletes at the Paralympic Games!). All of them have been debunked.
Watching You Shower?
Russian officials, who have sunk billions of dollars into the Games and staked the country's international reputation on their success, have gotten very testy about all the media reports depicting the Sochi accommodations as dysfunctional at best. At a press conference today, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak intimated that the negative reports were a result of anti-Russian bias, and dismissed them by saying that hotel surveillance cameras show that the showers are working fine.
Wait, what? Surveillance footage from hotel showers?
The Wall Street Journal reports:
"We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day," [Kozak] said. An aide then pulled a reporter away before [he] could be questioned further on surveillance in hotel rooms. "We're doing a tour of the media center," the aide said.
A spokesman for Mr. Kozak later on Thursday said there is absolutely no surveillance in hotel rooms or bathrooms occupied by guests. He said there was surveillance on premises during construction and cleaning of Sochi's venues and hotels and that is likely what Mr. Kozak was referencing. A senior official at a company that built a number of the hotels also said there is no such surveillance in rooms occupied by guests.
Pay no attention to the man behind the shower curtain...
Russia's widespread surveillance state extends to electronic devices like cellphones and laptops as well. In fact, NBC correspondent Richard Engel says his computer was hijacked almost immediately after he got online:
Engel decided to test Russia's privacy system with the help of American computer security expert Kyle Wilhoit, who set him up with two brand new computers and a phony identity, with fake names and addresses. When Engel connected them to the Internet in Sochi, he said he quickly received a suspicious email and was shocked when his computer was hijacked immediately after opening the email.
"In a minute, hackers were snooping around," he said. "The same thing happened with my cellphone -- it was very fast and very professional."
Within 24 hours, both of Engel's computers and his cell phone had been invaded, giving hackers the ability to tap and record phone calls.
Bud Bails, U.S. Sends Warships
Amid heightened security concerns, U.S.-based Budweiser has apparently decided against holding its traditional Olympics party, according to a report from TMZ:
In the past, Budweiser was known for hosting huge parties -- like the Club Bud bashes during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and at the 2006 Olympics in Turin. But we've learned ... the King of Beers has decided it won't be throwing a similar party at the '14 Games ... at least, that's the plan for now.
In fact, we've seen an email from a Budweiser rep which says the company does not want its U.S.-based representatives in Sochi ... and the message is clear -- the terrorist threat is simply looming too large. A rep for Anheuser-Busch confirms to TMZ Sports ... there will be no Club Bud in Sochi -- but the rep didn't give a reason for why the company is not throwing the party.
The U.S. government, whose offers to assist Russia with security for the Winter Olympics have been repeatedly rebuffed, is apparently worried enough about the security situation that it's sent two Navy warships to patrol the Black Sea. They'll be on standby, just in case American athletes and spectators need to be evacuated from the Games.
If that isn't a cluster**k, I don't know what is. But hey, cheers to Sochi!
Olympic toilets graphic via Spectrum Human Rights.