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Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Problem with #SochiProblems

The Olympics are one of my absolute favorite events.  Countries from around the whole world are brought together in the spirit of friendly competition, almost regardless of other global troubles.  Though we may not all share a common worldview, language, or system of government, we are able to put that aside for a few weeks every two years to simply celebrate people who have worked incredibly hard perfecting their sport over their lifetimes.

This year, the Games are being held in Sochi, Russia, and it's almost impossible to miss the uproar that has followed reporters' exposing of the conditions they have found themselves in. The hashtag #SochiProblems became an Internet phenomenon almost as soon as international representatives arrived in Russia. Though the reporters themselves didn't create the hashtag, their dry observations of the less-than-ideal conditions were quickly picked up by Americans and compiled into a viral concept under the name @SochiProblems on Twitter.

I'll be the first to say that I went right along with this trend; I was just as amused as the next person. I mean, seriously, how can a nation have a decade to prepare for the crowning moment of a major city and somehow still not be prepared to receive guests on that opening day?

Well, horrendous working conditions may be a small (read: really super huge) factor in the incomplete works. Reading this piece by PolicyMic really opened my eyes to the sad truth behind this situation that is generating so much amusement for us Americans. During construction, over 70,000 workers were denied wages and decent working conditions. When one group of workers would cease construction after they realized they would not be paid, another bus of unsuspecting laborers would be dropped off to replace them.  Under these conditions, I'm amazed the hotels and stadiums even broke ground.

 Another big issue I have taken with #SochiProblems has to do with the tap water. Reporters from all over the world, regardless of what other conditions they found themselves in, almost universally took issue with the dirty tap water.

 I can't help but react to this strongly; "oh, I'm sorry, guest reporter, you'll just have to drink and wash your face in bottled water." Do they even realize what an incredible privilege it is to be able to afford plenty of bottled water to ensure that they don't interact with any of the dangers associated with contaminated tap water? Over half of Russia's 143 million citizens have tap water that fails to meet basic safety and health standards. These people are aware of the many illnesses, like liver disease, that can result from drinking this tap water, but those who can't afford bottled water just boil what comes out of their tap and hope for the best.

The ephemeral problems of our international reporters have evolved into a bad joke, a joke that is very much reality for the population of a nation. SochiProblems isn't a hashtag, but rather, serious problems encountered by the residents in and around Sochi. Why do we treat it like an amusing television show?

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