Now what? Learning from Sochi Games
It's a phrase I hear often from my 5- and 7-year-olds after we have spent hours building extensive Lego cities, hotels and cafes.
"Great question," I say (meaning I have no clue). "Where do you want to put them?"
So we gently place our freshly constructed "cities" in a dark corner of the playroom, and there, they sit and sit ... and sit.
As I left Sochi, Russia, on Monday morning -- frantically trying to beat the collective rush to get home a day after the closing ceremony -- I glanced out my car window at the rows and rows of empty hotels, dorm compounds, half-finished complexes and empty retail spaces. I was haunted by that same question:
The same scale of emptiness will soon spread to the five sports arenas, Olympic stadium, four ski resorts, an empty amusement park, plus a whole mountain region, once the Paralympic Games are over. Also, this is in Adler, not Sochi. These were the Adler Olympics. Sochi is a 45-minute drive to the north, a city in and of itself. And, believe me, Adler is not Sochi. This is an Olympic city built from scratch with $51 billion, glossed by the spit-and-scrub method, held up with tape and ultimately devoid of spirit and culture. All for a few months.
And at what cost? Forget the $51 billion for the moment and factor in the cultural and environmental cost of displacing a community, destroying a sacred coastal marshland and, in its place, building a faceless, concrete playground with shiny venues. If you were dropped out of a plane and parachuted into Adler, you would have no idea you were in Russia.
As my drive to the airport continued, so did the nagging nonsense of it all. The International Olympic Committee and Russian Olympic Committee will tell you the buses ran on time, the venues were world class and the athletes competed superbly. Great, but what happened to perspective in this soulful journey called the Olympics? How can we allow this to happen? How can we award the precious Olympics to a city with no infrastructure and then bless this mess of a decision with glossy images and Olympic rings? How can we allow for such waste? How can we allow for such narcissistic squandering given all this country could have gained? For one Formula One race per year? For a few World Cup games in 2018? Some conventions? Bragging rights for Russian president Vladimir Putin?
As journalists, we covered these Sochi Games and shared the incredible stories of these athletes from around the world, but Monday, it hit me that I failed to report on the biggest story of all, the biggest hypocrisy in it all -- that Sochi was ever allowed to happen.
Awarding the Olympic Games to Sochi is a sobering reminder that the Olympic Games continue to veer away from the fundamental spirit the IOC claims to hold sacred. And by spirit, I mean the Olympism from its very own Olympic Charter: "Olympism is philosophy of life ... Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles."
I know the Olympics are not perfect. There are doping scandals, corporate posturing and corruption. But as a three-time Olympian and now journalist for four Olympic Games, I often beam with pride at what those five rings represent. I reflect with awe at just how much work goes into staging an Olympics. But at these Olympics, in the city of Adler, I walked away not proud, not awed, but embarrassed -- embarrassed that we allow such hypocrisy to have a face.
And I cringe at what is next. There is a distant memory of the hard work that went into building the Legos, but, in reality, the Sochi Games' legacy will be dusty, vacant structures, rotting from neglect -- $51 billion on the lost city sitting silent in the corner of the Adler playroom.
So, Mr. Thomas Bach, I respectfully ask you (read: beg), as freshly appointed IOC president, to please help salvage the Olympics' soul by never allowing the hollowness that was the Sochi Games to happen again.