Rethinking the 2014 Russian Olympics in Sochi

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Sochi will be the host city of the Winter Olympics after Vancouver in Canada, and it will be the first Olympics Game hosted by Russia Federation although Moscow hosted the summer Olympics Game during the Soviet times in 1980. In many aspects, hosting an international event like the Olympics game is not just about sport, but also about politics, economy and culture. Hardly can we deny the enormous benefits that the game will bring to the city, to the region, or even to the country. And yet, are these perceived benefits guaranteed? What are the critical success factors of a reputable Olympics game? Some key questions remain before we get optimistic about the game. 

Myth 1: The Game Brings in Money and that Improves Life Quality of the Locals 

The government indeed offers a generous budget for the Winter Olympics Game, from infrastructure to public relations and English education. Only the infrastructure part only costs at least 12 billion dollars, which is almost the most expensive Winter Olympics game ever. Also, the massive international audience of the game is perceived as emerging business opportunities in future.

Great cash flow is beyond question. And yet, who benefits from the cash flows and what is your share? If you are in construction business, and if you are lucky enough to play a role and meet the right business partners in the Olympics preparation, you probably will get a fair share. If you own a store, selling food and beverages, you have to wait until at least 2013 before your first bucket of gold. If you have a house, at least you can make some extra money by raising the rent because of the overwhelming demand during the game. 

What if you are only an ordinary employee? First, you will be pushed by your boss to generate more sales revenues due to the optimistic economic forecast. Second, you are unlikely to have a pay rise although you might have some extra cash from your sales bonus. If you are not in sales, you may even find yourself difficult to survive because of the drastic inflation. The first question to ponder is: apart from looking at the amount of cash flow as a whole, the economic structure matters most. 

Myth 2: Improved Infrastructure Overrides Damaged Nature 

One can hardly deny that there is tremendous room for improvement of the infrastructure and transportation system in Sochi. The game appears a positive motivation factor for the government and the private sector to work on the issue. Once I talked to someone who is in construction business, I asked about the key challenges of the project. When I tried to propose three possible answers, including the geographic complexity of the region, underdeveloped existing infrastructure and corruption, he replied with smile: “I think the corruption factor should not be the third, but the first.”

In fact, city development and nature preservation are not always mutually exclusive. Given the advanced technology nowadays, there are some options of green technology which can minimize the harms to the nature. Application to the green technology could be more costly and yet it saves Sochi in a longer term. After all, nature is the real asset of Sochi, and it still attracts tourists regardless of any special events in the city. The second question to ponder is: does the budget have the transparency and key performance indicators that ensure the effectiveness of the money? 

Myth 3: International Event Cultivates Cultural Exchange and Builds up Reputation 

Given the diverse nationalities in Sochi, the city indeed represents many different cultures and that could be a good icon of the country. And yet, whether these cultures can be presented to the outside world, both officially and casually, it depends on one essential condition: proficiency of a common language. Russian may be the most commonly spoken language in the region but it is still yet to be an international language. Meanwhile, English, as the most popular international language, remains unpopular among the locals in Sochi. The language gap may hinder the process of cultural exchange or even result in more misunderstanding or even mistrust. 

Assuming that good reputation is what the country seeks to achieve, it is not just the responsibility of the organizing committee, but also every stakeholder of the city to make the visitors feel welcome. Given the free English courses available in the city, how many citizens have enrolled the courses? Aside from the English courses, talking to English speaker is a good opportunity to improve one’s English proficiency. After all, English is not only valuable to the Olympics, but also precious for each individual to gain the access to the outside world. The last question to ponder is: before we dream about the benefits, are we ready to make efforts to deliver good results? 

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About Brian Yeung

Growing up in Hong Kong, pearl of the orient, I have been exposed to many cultures throughout my upbringing, from Sushi to British Top Talents and Tetris. And yet, after my stay in Europe, Russia and Southeast Asia for study and work, I realise a lot of cultural perception and presentation are just myths and stereotypes. Exploring the real accent of a particular country and its culture becomes my agenda of traveling. I value travel as a way to discover the diversity of life choices. After all, life is just the consequence of our many life choices; the one who is aware of its diversity is the luckiest person alive.

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