Censorship, corruption, environmental impacts, the threat of terrorism: These have been the focus of media reports on Sochi 2014, even in these final few days before the Opening Ceremony.
Of course these stories are disturbing and disheartening. Still, I can't help feeling the stirring of excitement. I remember so vividly the exhaustion, anxiety and anticipation of those final days leading up to Vancouver 2010. I close my eyes and imagine the scenes in Sochi this week and I smile at the crazy excitement.
Of course, there are people everywhere. From now until the day after the games, the mountain and city venues reach their highest population and event organizers are weaving and juggling a multiplicity of tasks, services, deadlines, needs and nationalities.
For days now the athletes have been arriving. They are recovering from jet lag, getting oriented, checking their accreditation and the athlete village that will be their home for the next 17 days. Some will be exploring the village in Adler in the southernmost part of Sochi, along the Black Sea Coast. Others have already boarded the train for the 90-minute climb to the gingerbread-perfect, spanking new resort of Rosa Khutor in the Caucasus Mountains.
A sea of volunteers is on site, smiling brightly, answering questions, unable to believe they are part of such a grand event.
Officials are testing out the fields of play: pushing fresh snow onto jumps, fine-tuning the luge run, carving the moguls, checking the ice surface. Athletes are trying out the competitive venues for the first time.
In the International Broadcast Center, the media are preparing feverishly. The official broadcasters, along with the Olympic Broadcast Services, have been there for weeks positioning cameras, running communication cables, testing and retesting their equipment, researching and preparing their stories. Accredited media from around the world are putting the finishing touches on their studios. Non-accredited media continue to stream into Sochi looking for background stories on Russian culture, Olympic colour and characters (and of course the sadly inevitable political stories).
The cameras, telephones, computers and monitors are in place at each venue and the Main Operating Center (MOC), the nerve center of the production that is the Olympics. If there is a transportation bottleneck, a serious injury, a terrorist attack, a protest, a flood, a VIP protocol issue or a major environmental spill the MOC will coordinate and communicate a response. Nerve endings are tingling here.
There's more international representation at the Olympics than in the United Nations. I remember Kofi Annan saying that at the 2010 Sport Accord conference in Dubai, and he was right. Heads of state, country representatives, Olympic committee representatives and major corporate sponsors will all be descending on Sochi. Hospitality suites are being made ready and protocols triple checked to make sure each dignitary and guest is treated appropriately. All the national flags have been ironed and hung according to the Cyrillic alphabet.
Observers from the Rio 2016, Pyeongchang 2018, Tokyo 2020 organizing committees and the current bid cities are in Sochi to watch, listen and learn. The Olympic Transportation Routes (OTR) have been set to ensure dignitaries are secure and the media, athletes and officials can move from venue to venue in a timely fashion. The first red and white painted visitors have already ventured into Canada House. Other patriotic fans and athletes are visiting their national hosting houses. Holland, Austria and Switzerland are typically fully decked out and a ton of fun.
Event organizers are running between these responsibilities, briefing sessions, daily operational updates and feedback loops with key stakeholders and hosting partners -- proud of what they've achieved, and nervous they will drop a ball. The leaders of the Environment and Sustainability Team in Sochi are guiding the observers and also working closely with the Communications Team to prepare key messages, data and a reports on the sustainability elements of the Games.
The final rehearsal for the Opening Ceremonies has added to the anticipation. The magic of Russian culture, art and music combined with the worlds greatest athletes is awe inspiring and organizers, officials and athletes alike can't wait to share this spectacle with the world.
At some point this week the IOC will hold a special welcome night to recognize and congratulate the host city, public and private sector partners and community organizations for a herculean effort. I see myself in 2010 preparing for that IOC function. I dashed from a media meeting to the women's washroom to change from my uniform into something more elegant. I exhaled. As I entered that lobby filled with my Canadian and international colleagues a mental switch went on in my head. I was filled with the realization that we had arrived. "No more preparation! It's time to present, host and welcome this extraordinary gathering." That time has now arrived for the team at Sochi.
In the weeks and months ahead there will be opportunities to present Sochi's sustainability report card and to assess the legacy these Games leave behind. For now I simply await the rising of the curtain. When the first note sounds in the Opening Ceremony, everything except the competition between the world's best athletes on the world's biggest stage will fall away. Bring on the Games.
UPCOMING SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS
Ann Duffy will be speaking at two upcoming conferences
in Western Canada:
Sport Events Congress
Edmonton, April 1-3
LEAD with Conscious Capitalism
Vancouver, April 15
Ann Duffy is an International Sustainability and CSR advisor who has worked with the IOC, Sochi 2014, Toronto 2015, Istanbul 2020. She was the Corporate Sustainability Officer for Vancouver 2010. Currently, she advises The 2015 Canada Winter Games and FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015.