From Vancouver To Sochi With Love

Dear People of Sochi,

Hello, Bonjour, Privyet. I’ve been meaning to write you for awhile, but as the dust settles from the Sochi Olympics this seems like as good a time as any.

There is something that has been nagging at me since before the beginning of these games, and I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice either.

Why is everyone so quick to pick on Sochi, on Russia?

The other day when Canadian Twitter was busy with #hardtotrashtalksweden and Sweden was busy with #hardtotrashcanada (and our lovely neighbours down in America, by the way, were busy doing just that), it occurred to me that trash-talking Russia has been one of the most popular pastimes during this entire tournament.


When Vancouver hosted the Olympics, we experienced a lot of the same tensions I imagine the people of Sochi experienced. We were proud to host the games, but frustrated by the social and economic injustices, overspending and mismanagement we saw from the Olympic committee and our other leaders. We were happy to poke fun at ourselves and criticize our politicians, but often felt unfairly targeted when misinformed and not-so-well-meaning outsiders chose to do so at our expense. Terrible traffic and dismal public transit systems? Welcome to our lives, tell our politicians and transportation companies to get with the program. Melting snow due to unseasonably warm temperatures in February? Crappy luck and totally not our fault, get over it.

Now, I know that Russia isn’t perfect, and that there have been some very serious and legitimate concerns raised about Russia’s hosting of the games. You probably know these problems much more intimately than I do, and it’s not my intention to downplay or write off these issues. The thing is, there are concerns raised about every country’s hosting of every major international event, sports-related or otherwise. Are the concerns about Russia more serious than those about previous hosts? Maybe, but it’s natural for the citizens of a country, and concerned citizens of other countries, to try to draw attention to their causes when the world’s gaze is turned towards them for a short time.

But when it comes to Sochi 2014, regardless of whether or not there were serious critiques to be made, it seems that the vast majority of criticisms lobbed at Russia over the interwebs were petty, unfair, hypocritical at times, and frankly shameful to those who lobbed them. I must confess I enjoyed watching the spoilt journalists whine about their less-than-five-star accommodations… until it got old after about five tweets.

But rarely did I hear one positive thing about the country that I visited in high school – my first time traveling outside of North America and without my family – and absolutely loved. Yes, Russia was different and the toilets were gross and the drivers were crazy and the police were scary. But Russia was also beautiful, and fascinating, and culturally rich; full of super friendly and interesting people who shared their homes with us, fed us, took care of us, and weren’t dissuaded that we couldn’t speak a word of their language and they couldn’t speak a word of ours.

In short, what I really want to say to you today are two things. Thank you, and I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that we have been such jerks to you.

I’m sorry that we suck, and care more about getting retweets on Twitter than the fact that there are real people, people just like us, who deal with unclean and unsafe water every day of their lives.

I’m sorry that we have taken this opportunity to shine the spotlight on all of your faults for our own selfish amusement, rather than shining it on your wonders and charms and using it as a chance to learn more about your country that is, to most of us, largely still a mystery.

And thank you for hosting the world, putting on a show, and putting up with us.

Thank you for all the sacrifices you, as individuals of Sochi, have no doubt made.

Thank you for having a sense of humour in the end, as evidenced by your super classy response in the closing ceremonies to the world’s totally classless mockery throughout.

And finally, congratulations. Russia rocked the 2014 Olympics, and while I know that the lack of a hockey medal may make all the rest of it seem futile (as a Canadian I understand this sentiment completely), the rest of your athletes still managed to dominate the podium. I was rooting for you, to be honest, not over my own team of course (although certainly over the Americans), but as a Vancouverite, because I know how great it feels to watch your team win on your own turf, and I wanted you to feel that too. I was happily satisfied to see you at the top of the medal table when all was said and done.

Mascot high five!
Mascot high five!

With love,

Janelle of Vancouver

p.s. They say it takes a multitude of positive comments to counter a single negative one. Here are a few more articles I have enjoyed that you might as well:

Why did the Sochi Olympics draw so much criticism? Safiah Chowdhury, at Al Jazeera, explores the criticisms of the Sochi Olympics, the motivations behind them, and questions if they have been unfairly criticised compared to other hosts.

#SochiProblems is more of an embarrassment for America than it is for Russia. Sarah Kaufman, at PolicyMic, implores journalists and twitterers to have more respect.

Sochi is not the problem. It’s me. Becky Hansmeier at Converge Magazine realizes that her fasination with Sochi’s problems is a mirror into herself.

Through fog of complaints, Sochi’s light shines. Jim Heintz for the Associated Press highlights some of Sochi’s good points.

8 Viral Sochi Olympic Photos That Are Total Lies. Matt Novak at Paleofuture exposes some of the lies that the #SochiProblems obsessed internet has latched on to.

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