WINTER OLYMPICS

No lights, dusty and filled with stray dogs: Media and families arrive to Sochi hotel horrors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 3:40pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 4:31pm

A stray dog inside the hotel, building dust everywhere and debris scattered all around. That us what some Olympic-accredited visitors have found on arrival in the mountains above Sochi.

According to the Sochi Olympic organising committee this week, only six of the nine media hotels in the mountain area are fully operational. The accommodation for athletes, however, has not been affected by the problems.

The Olympics open on Friday, with some preliminary competitions scheduled for the previous day, but it is common for many journalists to arrive several days in advance of the games.

The Russian government has spent US$51 billion on the Olympics in the hopes of turning the Black Sea summer resort into a year-round tourism destination. But persistent rain has soaked Sochi, delaying work and turning it into a sodden construction zone in the weeks leading up to the games.

While pre-games attention has focused on cost over-runs, threats of terrorist attacks and the Russian law banning gay “propaganda” among minors, the hotel situation could become an embarrassment for local organisers.

Joerg Reuter, a German who is working at his fifth Olympics for the European Pressphoto Agency, was one of the unlucky guests when he arrived on January 19. After seeing several unacceptable rooms, including the one with the dog, he was forced to travel back down to the coast to find a place to sleep.

Others have also been turned away this week, including at some of the hotels that organisers said Saturday were “complete”.

After his troubles, Reuter wrote a letter to the organisers to complain. “The outdoor area and floors/staircase/elevator inside were still under construction and completely dirty,” Reuter wrote.

He added that the room he was shown “had no light in the main room, the water out of the tap was yellow/brown, the air conditioning, TV, kitchenware were all not working ... Beside this the room was totally dirty and everywhere covered with dust”.

The next room was worse.

“In some rooms you actually saw that there are still the construction workers sleeping and living,” he wrote.

In some rooms you actually saw that there are still the construction workers sleeping and living
Joerg Reuter, photojournalist

Seeing the dog walk out of the third room he was shown was a step too far.

“When I came out of the [lift], there was the dog. I said, ‘Right, that’s it,’” Reuter said.

Organisers said in a statement on Saturday that media who arrived to find an incomplete room would be given new accommodation, some with an upgrade.

“Within the three remaining hotels, the rooms are currently going through the final testing process and check of their services,” the organising committee said. “At the end of the testing process guests will then be accommodated in the hotels they initially booked.”

Reuter said he was now happy with his accommodation.

“My room now is one of the best I ever had at Olympics. Perfectly equipped, nice and friendly service and a superb breakfast,” Reuter said. “I really feel safe and comfortable. I just wonder what happens to all the people who arrive in the next day?”

Room sharing, stepping up construction

Family and friends of Olympic athletes have been unaffected by unfinished hotel rooms in the mountains near Sochi, an International Olympic Committee official said on Monday.

Although the problem provoked embarrassment for local organisers, Olympics Games executive director Gilbert Felli said rooms “would all be delivered” by the end of Wednesday.

“We are not yet discover[ing] any problems from families,” Felli said after his fact-finding visit to Krasnaya Polyana.

Felli said several hundred rooms, out of 41,000 available at the Games, were either not finished, not cleaned or were missing telephones and televisions.

It does not mean that it’s a catastrophe, that people do not have a room. People have not been put outside
Gilbert Felli, Games executive director

“It does not mean that it’s a catastrophe, that people do not have a room. People have not been put outside,” Felli said after a news conference hosted by IOC President Thomas Bach.

Families of athletes are expected to arrive in greater numbers ahead of qualifying events starting on Thursday. The opening ceremony is on Friday.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Kozak, said the problems would be resolved by some “final cleaning”.

“All the hotels in Sochi which will be hosting guests of the Olympic Games are built and ready,” Kozak said Monday at a public meeting in the coastal city.

On Sunday in the mountain zone, workers were ripping up paving stones in Gorki Plaza and replacing them, and debris were piled on roads and in alleys. Others were painting and fitting cabinets and kitchens in some apartments.

Room sharing had been proposed as a temporary solution for some groups, rather than switching hotels.

“They have accepted some negotiations,” Felli said. “For three nights, you put two people in the room and people have accepted. We know that in some cases some groups would like not to change the place. They would like to stay in the hotel because it’s more convenient where they have to go.”

One Olympic sponsor also discussed its options to secure better accommodation.

“We offer maybe to move and they say, ‘No, no, we want to stay here because the conditions are much better up here but we would like to have our room to be finished,”‘ Felli said, declining to identify the sponsor. “So, some discussions with them and then they accept.”