Thursday, February 6, 2014

First World Problems: Some Perspective from Sochi

With the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics scheduled for tomorrow evening, it's no surprise that news reports are full of descriptions of the venues and the conditions. What is a surprise is what those venues look like and what those conditions are. Most years the Olympic Village where the athletes stay consists of beautiful hotels with nice dining areas. The accommodations might feel dorm-like for many of the American athletes, but probably some of the athletes from less wealthy countries have never stayed in such luxurious places. Sochi, however, is not fitting into that mold. The news reports, like this one from ABC News and this one from the Washington Post, use words like "horrors, "dangerous," "ick factor," "tainted,"  "appalling," and "gross." Reporters are tweeting images of yellow water; toilets bearing signs warning not to flush toilet paper; lobbies still under construction; stray dogs wandering around inside; lack of working doorknobs, heat, curtain rods, locks, electrical outlets, and light bulbs; and open manholes in the middle of sidewalks.





The reporters are horrified and disgusted at being asked to stay in such primitive conditions. But how many of the athletes competing in the games have lived in circumstances like these for part or all of their lives without blinking an eye? How many of the people watching the Olympic Games around the world live in a place where drinkable water coming from taps is not a guarantee? Where flush toilets, both those that can and those that cannot handle toilet paper, are not in every home? Where staying in a hotel, even an unfinished one, is not something that everyone expects to do in their lifetime as a matter of course? Where there is not an expectation of working heat, of light bulbs, of electrical outlets, of hot and cold running water? Where there IS an expectation that the government will overspend its budget by multiples and still not get things done?

We as Americans complain about the latter often, but maybe seeing it from a Sochi perspective will help us to realize that we're not as bad off as we sometimes think. So thank you, Sochi, for reminding us of the truly international nature of the Olympic Games. Thank you for reminding us just how much privilege we in the first world enjoy. Thank you for letting us see what second- and third-world problems are really like.

Maybe then we can get beyond some of our own first world problems.

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