The winter Olympics kick off in the Russian city of Sochi on Thursday, whether Russia is ready for them or not. And it increasingly appears that Sochi might not actually be all that ready. Here are 15 signs – some of them superficial, some legitimately alarming – that the Olympics could get off to a bumpy start.
1. The Olympic flame went out 44 times
Russia's bold plan to run the Olympic torch for thousands of miles, including to the north pole, made it the longest run in history. But the flame kept going out, including in front of the Kremlin, just moments after Russian President Vladimir Putin helped light it. This video shows a well-meaning guard trying to re-light it with a pocket lighter as the entire world watches.
2. An official Olympic hub isn't even finished
As of Sunday, Gorki Plaza — the transportation and housing hub for thousands of visitors — was still under construction. Organizers blamed 10 days of recent rain.
3. No one knows how bad the environmental damage is
Environmental experts predict the breakneck construction in Sochi could cause significant environmental damage — but because of Russia’s opaqueness on the issue, they really have no idea how big the problem is. Observers from organizations like the WorldWatch Institute and the World Wildlife Fund, however, have voiced concerns about illegal waste dumping, contaminated drinking water, dangerous construction on unsound ground, light pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and disruption to native animal populations and habitats.
4. Allegations of corruption with Olympic funds
Officials in Russia, and observers around the world, have accused organizers in Sochi of widespread corruption and mismanagement of Olympics funds. The Anti-Corruption Foundation, an opposition group founded by activist and politician Alexei Navalny, has gone so far as to publish an interactive map on all the alleged embezzlement, a screenshot of which is above.
5. Woman displaced by construction mishap living in shack
A 58-year-old woman from outside of Sochi is living in an aluminum shack after construction errors caused her two-story house to collapse. She’s one of several demanding compensation for homes ruined, she alleges, by Olympic subcontractors.
6. Construction workers deported, possibly unpaid
More than 100 construction workers from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were detained and deported back to their countries — often, they claim, without being paid for their work.
7. The mass campaign to "dispose" of stray dogs
Sochi’s stray dog problem is so severe that local organizers had to contract a pest control company to “catch and dispose” of the animals, which have been spotted everywhere from hotels to Olympic venues. (Seriously, there are a lot of stray dogs in Sochi.) Said Alexei Sorokin, the director of the pest control firm: “God forbid [a dog runs in the stadium] at the actual opening ceremony. This will be a disgrace for the whole country."
8. Political activists barred from even watching
The Russian Olympic Committee denied fan passes to several Russian political activists — basically denying them any access to the games, even as spectators.
9. Sochi filled with construction debris, unfinished buildings
Recent photos from the neighborhoods around the Olympic Park, where athletes will live and compete during the games, show streets filled with trash, loose wires and uncovered manholes.
10. Oh, and there may be loose terrorists
The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for the Games, after reports of three “black widow” suicide bombers targeting Sochi and several online threats from terrorist groups.
11. Athletes say snow jumps are dangerously steep
Sochi organizers were forced to modify a snowboarding course after a top Norwegian snowboarder, Totstein Horgmo, crashed in practice and fractured his collarbone. Multiple athletes complained that the jumps were too steep. Horgmo, who had been a medal contender, will probably not compete.
12. Photos of "Sochi problems" are going viral online
— Sochi Problems (@SochiProblems) February 5, 2014
Public perception of the games online is so bad that a Twitter account called @SochiProblems has already racked up more than 11,000 followers. The account’s bio: “I’m a mess, and not prepared for you!”
13. Journalists are live tweeting gross and hilarious hotel mishaps
Some journalists are being warned that the water in their hotels is too polluted to bathe in — let alone drink. “I just washed my face with Evian, like I'm a Kardashian or something,” tweeted the Chicago Tribune’s Stacy St. Clair, minutes after posting a photo of the cloudy yellow water coming out of her tap.
14. At least one hotel has no floor. But it does have a prominent portrait of Vladimir Putin.
15. Russian Olympics officials are not really controlling the story
One CNN producer who tweeted a hotel S.O.S. call to Dmitry Chernyshenko, the president of the Sochi organizing committee, got this response: “media hotels are opened, undergoing final testing. Apologize for inconvenience. Pls contact press operations or accomodation service.” When the producer incredulously asked “can you believe this is the Winter Olympics?” Chernyshenko helpfully encouraged him to look around at the mountains and “believe.”