I can still remember where I was the moment it was announced that Vancouver would be hosting the 2010 Winter Games. Despite the fact that I wasn’t yet a resident of our fair city, it was an immense matter of pride, not only for the residents of Vancouver, but for the people of British Columbia, and perhaps even Canada. It was loudly announcing that Vancouver, our humble seaside oasis, land of Starbucks and rainforests and yuppies was in fact a World Class City™.
And then? A comedy of errors. I don’t remember where I was when they announced the first missed deadline, or the first project over budget, but you know it happened. And then it happened again. And again. By then I had relocated to Vancouver from the Interior of B.C., drawn by the promise of the Olympics and the influx of people and explosive growth that promised. Not a day went by where we didn’t hear about rapidly inflating costs, on how the Games, which once held such promise, were now an economic albatross around the proverbial neck of the Province, dragging us down into a pit of recession from which we would never recover. These complaints persisted up until the opening of the Olympics themselves, when it seemed the entire city was scrambling to get everything ready for our debut on the world stage.
Suddenly, there was a whole new set of problems. A luger died on a training run the day before the Opening Ceremony, prompting cries of negligence on the part of the track planners. An unseasonably warm winter threatened to derail the outdoor events, resulting in officials literally having to truck in snow from the B.C. Interior to ensure everything could proceed. The British press famously referred to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics as ‘the worst games in history.’ It made me heartsick, to see the city I loved so dearly and the efforts of thousands of people eviscerated by the same global audience we’d been so eager to please.
Which brings me to my problem with the unbridled glee with which people have been mocking the situation in Sochi. From the moment journalists started arriving in the city, the Internet has been flooded with pictures detailing unfinished accommodations, dirty water, stray dogs, communal toilets, cramped living quarters – this list goes on. A byproduct of our social media obsessed age, where everyone is looking for the next viral post, sure, but also a mean-spirited attack on the people busting their butts to host the world’s biggest event over the next two and a half weeks. And people just keep piling on.
Are there some logistical problems associated with pulling off an event on the scale of the Winter Olympics? Absolutely; we witnessed them firsthand during 2010. But openly mocking the city that’s hosting you and thousands of others is antiethical to the spirit of the Olympics themselves; an event where politics and status are, for the most part, pushed aside so countries can compete on a level playing field in the name of sports and sportsmanship. There’s an enormous amount of pride at stake, and not just for the athletes themselves.
In the end, if you’ll recall, our games went off without a hitch (at least not any I remember four years later), the naysayers were silenced, and we were able to solidify our standing as a World Class City™, playing host to a number of global events since (with more to come). Nothing will ever, ever compare to being downtown in the afterglow of Canada’s Olympic hockey win (and I recently witnessed the birth of my first child).
The residents of Sochi deserve the same, so instead of undermining the efforts of countless volunteers, business owners, and citizens doing all they can with what they have and desperately praying they don’t screw it up, let’s rally behind them and give them their own Olympic moment. If there’s anything we’ve learned from Eddie the Eagle or the Jamaican Bobsled Team, it’s that everyone loves an underdog. What could be more Olympic than that?
Derek Bolen will be watching the Olympics from the safety of his condo–which is currently being renovated.