Hoteliers are not only ones in dog-house in Sochi

SOCHI SKETCH: PHILIP BARKER with news and views from inside the MPC and, fortunately for him, the media hotels at the Winter Olympics

Welcome to Sochi! The enrtance to the Winter Games' vast press and media centres
Welcome to Sochi! The enrtance to the Winter Games’ vast press and media centres

Russian navy ships can be seen on the waters of the Black Sea across from Olympic Park. At every railway station, you have to pass through airport-style X-ray machines. Even then, there are policemen patrolling up and down the corridors at regular intervals.

Welcome to the Sochi Olympics!

Most journalists working here accept the tight security this as a price to pay for safety, especially after the recent attacks in Volgograd.

  • Some journalists were less than pleased, after their long flight, to find that their accommodation not ready when they arrived. Others have been frustrated by the lack of information when they reached their quarters. The problems were only said to affect 3 per cent of the media pack, but that still works out at about 720 unhappy journalists. First impressions count and last.

Some of the problems could be linked to construction delays. NBC, the American broadcaster which bank-rolls much Olympic activity, has been reporting that “alarm bells” are ringing as building work continues on spaces such as the Gorki Plaza East hotel in Krasnaya Polyana. The local organisers, Sochi 2014, have admitted that only six of the nine media hotels in the mountain area are fully operational. Other reports from US broadcasters suggest that the building delays may impact the thousands of visitors expected to arrive in the region from Thursday and ahead of the Opening Ceremony on Friday.

IT IS NOT only the media who have encountered problems with their accommodation. There were some reports on Tuesday that some officials from an eastern European national Olympic committee – the sort of blazers who usually expect at least 4-star luxury – have been complaining about arrangements at the Zhemchuzhina Hotel in the city.

Bach to basics

“I know how embarrassing it is when you arrive after a long flight to a place and your room is not ready,” Thomas Bach, the new International Olympic Committee president, said, quickly slipping into his new role – part head-of-state, part-global diplomat, part-salesman for the Games’s multi-million-dollar sponsors and partners.

Bach is acutely aware that upsetting journalists over basic details such as their bed, food or equipment is a sure-fire way towards negative headlines. Bach dispatched veteran Olympic fixer (in the mending sense, not the race rigging sense) Gilbert Felli to address the problem.

IOC president Thomas Bach: keen to keep onside with the world's press
IOC president Thomas Bach: keen to keep onside with the world’s press

All those affected did find a bed for the night though it did not stop Felli being besieged by reporters after an IOC press conference.

OTHER JOURNALISTS are reporting the language barrier as a real problem. Most volunteers and staff in the Main Press Centre speak excellent English but it is a different story at the railway stations and in the Olympic Park.

One colleague wishing to visit the biathlon course was directed on to a bus. Told the journey would take 20 minutes, he found himself deposited an hour and a half later… at the airport.

Here’s hoping such mistakes will be ironed out before the competition starts. There is no greater guarantee of a bad press than problems in looking after the media transport. Just ask Atlanta.

Ticketed events for the media look to be at an all-time high for a Winter Games. A two-page list includes many of the skating competitions and the preliminary men’s ice hockey match between Russia and the United States, plus  everything from the quarter finals onwards.

For those coming from the suburb of Adler or Sochi to the Main Media Centre, a word of advice: use the Olympic Village station. From there it is just a short walk to the MMC .

  • The media centre building itself is an impressive structure. The trend to link with the International Broadcast Centre has been followed, and the workrooms for press and photogarphers are on opposite sides of a huge and airy corridor. There are three press conference rooms. Conscious of their literary heritage, the Russians have named these Pushkin, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. There is no truth in the rumour that the latter is reserved only for the really long ones.

AT THE Seoul Games in Korea in 1988, the government and local organisers worked together to ensure that dog was off the menu at city restaurants so as not to offend western sensibilities. Here in Putin’s Russia, there’s no such pussy-footing. The Sochi authorities have issued an order to a local pest controller to  “exterminate” more stray dogs found out on the streets of the Olympic city.

THOMAS BACH IMPRESSED at his first Games-time media session. He’s more at ease with the media than his two predecessors. That probably comes from his background as a lawyer. There were even a couple of jokes.

The German says he wants future IOC sessions to have more of a debate about them. Just don’t expect anything like the cut and thrust of the Palace of Westminster.


Mon Mar 24: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, Grand Connaught Rooms, London
Mon Apr 14: SJA Spring Golf Day: Croham Hurst GC, Surrey. Booking details to be announced