We’ve all seen them: the articles listing all of the things wrong with the athlete’s dormitories. The stories of “very dangerous” water. And the pictures of everything from a busted-through bathroom door to not-quite five Olympic rings.
In short, we’ve all had our fun with Sochi and mocking Russia’s attempt to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. And what I’d like, more than anything else, is for everyone to stop and just concentrate on what we’re supposed to be doing: coming together as one to celebrate through the magic of sports.
Yes, Russia and Sochi should have been more ready for the Games. They’ve had what, seven years? And they still couldn’t manage to get the sewage hooked up right? Even I agree that’s pretty bad. But sometimes contractors, to paraphrase the late author Douglas Adams, seem to love the “whooshing noise” of deadlines flying over their heads.
Trouble with building companies isn’t confined just to Russia, either. We’ve had a pretty good taste of that at Geneseo, where that nice stadium that was promised to be completed by spring 2014, but doesn’t look like it’ll be finished for years.
Enough complaining – let’s talk about the three reasons why we hold the Olympics in the first place. First and foremost, in my sports-obsessed mind, we want to see the best athletes in every possible sport leave it all out there on the field, track, ice, sand or court. There are certain points during the Games that you will remember for the rest of your life.
For instance, I remember getting home after a practice, walking through the door and immediately seeing Zach Parise at the Vancouver Games tie the gold medal hockey matchup between the USA and Canada in 2010. Yes, it was a short-lived celebration (damn you, Sidney Crosby), but it was epic nonetheless. That’s what this is all about, from a spectator’s perspective: creating moments and memories through sports and ath0letics.
Secondly, the Olympics are about bringing the world together to celebrate. While there has always been a tendency to get political and boycott versions of the Games just to make a statement, doing so is not its original purpose.
One of my favorite elements of the Olympics, besides sniggering at the reports of how much drinking and sex goes on in the Olympic Village, is the way in which people that would never have met otherwise meet and interact. In 2008 at the Beijing Summer Olympics, it seemed as if every single athlete from Asia was taking a picture with American basketball star Kobe Bryant. Stories like that seem to be common and not just for American athletes.
Even better than viewing this on TV would be going as a fan to the Games. Just think: You can conceivably meet people from at least half of the world’s countries – even more if it’s the Summer Olympics. As someone who is fascinated by different cultures, this would be better than a dream for me, and I hope I get to go to the Games someday so I can become best friends with someone from Bhutan or Uruguay or wherever. If you really think about it, athletics is simply the vehicle the Olympics use to foster these beautiful ties between cultures, binding us forever closer and stronger.
Lastly, the Olympics are a great way to learn in-depth details about the host nation. What did I really know about Russia before the Games outside of the facts that they used to be communists and Vladimir Putin likes to take his shirt off about as much as Taylor Lautner? Nothing, really.
Maybe this one isn’t for the casual fan who turns on curling for some background noise, but the host countries do the best they can, especially during the opening ceremony, to show what their country is all about. It’s one of my favorite parts of the Games because I get to see all of my favorite athletes, I get treated to a pretty cool theatrical performance with a fireworks display, Bob Costas’ voice soothes my worries away and I learn about the host country. In addition, it’s always interesting to hear the stories about the host country’s athletes who otherwise would never get a shot to take part in the world’s ultimate athletics competition.
My fear with so much criticism being, admittedly somewhat rightly, lobbed at Sochi, is this: Coming to Russia only a couple of decades out from the fall of the Soviet Union was a risky move by the International Olympic Committee in the same way going to Beijing was in 2008. These places weren’t the established sites that have hosted a few times, like London and Rome; they were unproven. And while I can’t recall any huge complaints about those 2008 Games, I’m sure that some people will remember Sochi as those Games where Russia really embarrassed itself. What if the wrong people remember that and stop taking risks with putting the Games in new and exciting places?
Hosting the Olympics is a matter of national pride that should not be reserved only to Western countries that have established themselves as competent Games hosts. If there’s an up-and-coming city or country that wants to put itself on the global stage and can prove that it will be done well, I say we let them have it. Their bids will have to be just as good as anyone else’s, but assuming that happens, there is no reason not to let the rest of the world share in the joy of hosting the Games that literally bring the world together.
I would like people to settle down and enjoy these Olympics. Russia got mostly everything right and only screwed up a relatively small amount down the stretch, and yet it’s all anyone talked about in the couple weeks before the Games. It’s time to focus on what matters most: intense competition, creating goodwill with our fellow human beings and watching the Canadians cry when we win gold in hockey.