Russian President Vladimir Putin officially declared the Sochi Winter Olympics open on Friday. And if that old Soviet phrase “the worse, the better” applies to the week leading up to the Games, this year’s Olympics will be nothing short of spectacular.
Here’s a list of some of the spectacular disasters that have befallen the Games this week.
The stray dog massacre
In one of the most gruesome reports to come out of Sochi, a local pest control company told the Associated Press earlier this week that the pressure was on to round up and kill the city’s stray dog population. Apparently some of the pups had become a little too comfortable hanging around Olympic hotels and courses, so Russian authorities wanted to be proactive about keeping the dogs out of the stadium during the opening ceremonies. Sochi residents have reported seeing dogcatchers shoot poison darts at the animals, then tossing them dead or alive into waiting trucks, like something out of “Monty Python.” Though a spokesman from the International Olympic Committee insisted that healthy dogs weren’t being exterminated, outraged animal rights organizations and shelters have been frantically trying to save as many strays as possible from potential slaughter.
Issues surrounding the Olympics have been so common and, at times, hilarious that they warranted their own Twitter hashtag. Thus, #SochiProblems - the place for all your tweets about missing doorknobs, used toilet paper trash cans, no floors, putrid water, warning signs on elevators, and strangers inside your hotel rooms - was born. According to the social media monitoring company Digimind, #SochiProblems received more mentions in the week leading up to the Olympics than Team USA, Putin, and the Opening Ceremony. In fact, the online bashing became so popular that an unofficial Twitter account, @SochiProblems, has netted more followers than the official Winter Olympics account–in just three days of its existence.
Did he just say “surveillance video?”
In response to the flood of Tweets documenting dilapidated and unfinished hotel accommodations for visiting journalists, Russia’s deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations misfired in his attempt to deflect blame.
“We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day,” Dimitry Kozak told a reporter, according to the Wall Street Journal.
An aide quickly pulled the journalist away before Kozak could be asked to elaborate on this “surveillance video,” and his spokesman later said there were absolutely no video cameras spying on guests in their hotel rooms. But still, kind of makes you wonder, huh?
No Chobani for you!
Looks like athletes hoping to kick back with a delicious serving of New York-made Greek yogurt will have to make do without it. Due to a customs dispute with Russia, an estimated 5,000 cups of Chobani yogurt, an official sponsor of Team USA, are sitting in a temperature-controlled container at Newark airport in New Jersey instead of making their way to hungry competitors at the Olympics. The Russian government claims to take issue with American dairy standards, and as such, will not allow any U.S.-made yogurt to contaminate its soil. Despite an outraged letter from New York Sen. Chuck Schumer to the Russian Ambassador and International Olympic Committee chair, the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. said in a statement that the necessary paperwork to authorize the shipment has yet to be filed. Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya took the opportunity to issue his own statement against Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, saying that Chobani “has always believed in diversity and inclusion.”
More reports of anti-gay violence and police crackdown on protests
Attempts to protest Russia’s controversial law banning homosexual “propaganda” this week ended with arrests for LGBT activists in two major cities, according to the Russian Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality. In a St. Petersburg protest on Wednesday night, police appeared to know in advance about the plan to display banners on metro station platforms with the message: “Berlin 1936 = Sochi 2014.” Two activists were taken into police custody before the event even began. In Moscow’s Red Square Friday, shortly before the Opening Ceremony, 10 LGBT activists were detained for attempting to sing the Russian national Anthem with rainbow flags.
Those reports come amid Human Rights Watch’s release of a video compilation showcasing vicious attacks against gay, perceived gay, or pro-gay rights activists in Russia. In many cases, vigilante gangs with names like “Occupy Pedophilia” recorded the attacks themselves and used social media to humiliate the victims even further.
The anti-anti-gay law stand
If there’s any good news surrounding the Olympics to come out this week, it’s the creative PR push we’ve seen online in support of gay rights, currently trapped in the grip of Russia’s repressive laws. Google changed its search page to a rainbow doodle featuring Olympic athletes and the non-discrimination clause of the Olympic Charter, which many feel has been ignored in deference to Russian officials. Additionally, U.S. Olympic Committee sponsor AT&T issued an official condemnation of Russia’s anti-gay laws on its blog. And the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion released this brilliant PSA that quickly went viral: