I knew y’all didn’t care about sports, but the comments and coverage I have been seeing about the Sochi Winter Olympics has just been occasions to make fun of Russia. And while there are plenty of reasons to make fun of Russia, we definitely haven’t been making fun of them for the best ones. Mostly I’ve been seeing journalists’ tweets about janky-ass infrastructures and hotels lacking in accommodations. There’s even a hashtag: #SochiProblems.
Wooow, it’s like they expected to be staying a first world country! Western journalists are trying to make Sochi look unworthy of hosting the Games, when in fact, most of the world doesn’t even have the infrastructure or luxuries these journalists are talking about. In Greece, Mexico, Nicaragua, South Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, or Taiwan, you might find yourself putting your used toilet paper in a bin provided for you. This shit (pardon the pun) is extremely common.
Laughing at how not rich a place is not okay. Laughing at how uncivilized it is because they don’t poop like you is not okay. It just makes you look like a jackass. Why the hell are we looking at the water coming out of Russia’s taps and thinking of it as a gross inconvenience when locals have to deal with it constantly? It’s not about your crappy hotel experiences. It’s about the costs. It’s about government corruption. What is the money being used for? Where is it being taken from? Locals have been dealing with power cuts, wells going dry, and damaged homes, in what is said to be the most expensive Olympics ever. An article on PolicyMic talks about the western condescension erasing others’ more legitimate problems:
As faves and retweets on @SochiProblems explode, it’s clear that the meme is based on cultural misunderstandings borne out of sheltered ignorance: The posts reflect actual issues that directly impact the quality of life of Russia’s 143 million people.
More recently, the Olympics have been held in emerging markets like Russia, China, and Brazil, which means these countries face higher costs in trying to accommodate the events, and the rush of athletes and tourists. There are plenty of stories for our noble journalists, and instead we get to hear them whine about how there’s no bar in the hotel.
In addition to all this, talk about how Russia’s anti-gay stuff has been in the spotlight, and rightly so. But the criticism of it comes primarily from the west, and it often makes similar implications about how backwards Russia is for being homophobic.
And yet, what about the west? Though there are laws on the books to protect LGBTQ individuals from hate crimes and homophobic harassment, most such acts go unprosecuted or even unreported. In the UK, a crime survey by Stonewall notes that one in six lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have experienced a hate crime or incident in the last three years. One in ten victims experienced a physical assault, and more than three quarters of victims did not report what they had experienced to the police. Two thirds did not report it to anyone. In the US, there are still 10 states with anti-sodomy laws that are still being used to persecute and humiliate gay people. And speaking of the Olympics, NBC, an American media corporation, edited out an anti-discrimination statement made by the president of the International Olympic Comittee during the opening. American viewers did not get to see the IOC’s statement and stance against “any form of discrimination” when other viewers in other countries could.
What’s worse is that we risk using gay people as props or inspiration in order to continue to reaffirm our western moral superiority, such as in this luge ad from the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion. This is in no way meant to excuse Russia’s stance on gay rights. However, all these attitudes about Sochi are being used to inform the narrative of how enlightened, civilized, and morally superior the west is compared to a place like Russia. We are approaching this the wrong way: unsympathetic and hypocritical. And if you’re gonna boycott Russia, who else are you willing to boycott?