Thu, Feb 06, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Delays hamper media in Sochi

RUFFLED WRITERS:Construction delays at the Winter Olympics site in Russia have tested the patience of journalists even as the opening of the Games approaches

The Guardian, SOCHI, Russia

“Someone has been sleeping in my bed!” wailed a distraught journalist, finally checking into his Sochi hotel room after a long journey only to find the bed already slept in, presumably by construction workers who were still rushing to complete the rest of the hotel. He might also have accused them of eating his porridge but for the fact that the hotel kitchen was not yet in any fit state to be making it.

The hotel, which is meant to house hundreds of journalists covering the Games, is really a sprawling complex of apartment blocks which serve as the one of the main venues for media at the Winter Olympics.

The complex is far from ready, though the Games are to start this weekend.

“Your room is still under construction,” a harried receptionist said on Tuesday. “They are literally finishing, the keys are literally coming now.”

Those lucky enough to get a room “literally” immediately were, however, forced to endure music played at an ear-splitting volume from a stage surrounded by several hotels. It drove one Canadian, trying to sleep off jet lag from a 24-hour journey, to the verge of tears as he unsuccessfully beseeched the staff to turn the music down.

Russia has spent US$51 billion on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but that sum did not stretch to getting all the hotels built on time.

As media from across the world streamed into the Black Sea city, with just 72 hours left until the Olympic torch is lit and the Games are officially opened, construction work that should have been completed months ago was still underway.

On Monday, Sochi organizers said that 97 percent of rooms were finished and the remaining 3 percent were getting a final cleaning.

The delays do not affect athletes’ accommodation.

However, all around the media hotel area, and inside the main Olympic zone, construction continues apace. The airport, train station and main venues are sparkling and ready, but just a few minutes’ walk from the main venues, laborers daub cement on half-finished constructions.

Three hours after delivering heart-felt assurances that progress in the pursuit of a completed hotel room was imminent, the same receptionist admitted defeat.

In the meantime she offered a room with no heating, a single bed, and permeated with the odor of industrial glue. On another floor a US photographer was given a room where the heating worked overtime and could not be turned off. Workers attached towel racks and lightbulbs as the guests unpacked their suitcases.

As the pack of international journalists settled down to work, the same receptionist was asked for a Wi-Fi password by writers hoping to file their stories.

“We have plans for the introduction of Wi-Fi in the rooms in the foreseeable future,” she said.

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