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  • Cock-ups, Hotdogs and Crowds -- the Sochi Spectator Experience


    Sausage Roll (ATR)
    (ATR) Around the Rings received mixed reports about the customer service experience at the Sochi Olympics.

    ATR canvassed the views of three Olympic visitors and two volunteers at the Ice Cube, venue for curling, to get a flavor of feedback about the issues linked to venues, ticketing and concessions.

    “It’s just a cock-up,” one Australian woman told ATR. She was furious with Sochi 2014 organizers following a string of problems since she arrived in the Black Sea resort a few days ago.

    The barcode on her ticket, bought from Co-Sport one year ago, didn’t work so she had to go back to Adler train station to get it reissued.

    The Sydneysider had to pay an exorbitant fee for a private pick-up from the airport to Adler where she is staying. She was told the cost was 10 euros, but was charged 70 euros.

    She was also very disappointed with her accommodation. Her hotel was pre-booked but when she arrived, it was overbooked so she was put with a host family.

    “They don’t speak English. It’s an absolute dump. Nothing provided, no tea, no coffee… nothing. 80 euros a night, just one towel and a single bed,” she said.

    At the curling venue, where she was attending her first event, the concessions staff put her in worse mood. “There’s no milk for tea and coffee, no change,” she went on. “I can’t drink it black.”

    Limited Food Selection

    A selection of food at the Curling venue (ATR)
    The lack of food choices at Games venues has been noticeable at all the six Olympic Park venues visited by your Around the Rings correspondent.

    Certainly, the warm food offerings curling up in a glass display at a concessions stand in the Ice Cube curling venue – hot dogs, pizza, sausage rolls and wraps – did not look appetizing in the slightest.

    Hot dogs were the most popular item, costing 200 rubles ($5.70). The man in charge of the concessions unit estimated that 500 hot dogs would be sold that day.

    Dressed head to toe in an orange outfit, one Dutchman complained to ATR that the queues had been “very long and slow” at concessions stands in some venues including the Adler Arena where he and his friends had spent time cheering on the country’s speedskating stars.

    He described the food and drink available on the Olympic Park as “basic, it’s not special”.

    Another problem was getting tickets. He bought tickets for speedskating in the Netherlands but his group has struggled to get tickets for other events such as curling. He said the queues at the box offices were “very long and very slow”.

    Where’s the Beer?

    An Olympic fan from Norway (ATR)
    But one twenty-something Olympic sports fan from Norway was less critical of service levels at the Sochi Games.

    “I think the food is quite alright. But beer is almost impossible to find,” said the woman, “that has been the biggest issue.”

    With cowbells hanging from her pigtails and cheeks painted with the Norwegian flag, she looked every inch a winter sports lover.

    She described the sports and her Olympic experience so far as “very exciting”, especially up in the mountain cluster where she has witnessed biathlon and cross-country.

    However, she registered surprise at the lack of crowds and atmosphere. “The Olympic Park," she said, was “very big but there are not so many people around.”

    Backing Oslo’s 2022 Winter Olympic bid, she said there was no danger of crowds not showing up at a Norwegian Games.

    What Crowds?

    A couple of olympic fans from Minnesota (ATR)
    A couple from Minnesota, USA were mostly satisfied with their Olympic experience.

    “You have to adjust your service expectations,” the woman said, “the organization of lines, everything being, I guess, fair as we would say. That’s been a little more difficult to adjust to.”

    “I think the food has been good.”

    She added, “I don’t think the crowds have been as thick as we thought they would be in the Olympic Park.

    “But lines never seem to be that long, it’s just that the service ususally takes a little time and sometimes they don’t let you use your Visa and sometimes they only let you use your Visa.

    “But we’ve actually thought things have been really, really great.”

    Up in the mountain cluster where they have seen some snow sports, she said the unfinished hotels and buildings that made the headlines in the weeks leading up to the Games were more evident than in accommodations and infrastructure in the coastal cluster.

    The couple, who are taking in Games action over 13 days, said they were satisfied with their guesthouse accommodation in Adler. “Our accommodation is really good. It was already established. So, very lucky, nice beds, comfortable pillows… things that work, clear water.”

    Satisfied Volunteers

    A pair of cheerful volunteers, one a Scot the other a Swiss, were on a day off from being statisticians at the curling venue.

    They didn’t have any major gripes to report in the week that they’d been in Sochi.

    The Scotsman said the accommodations, hospitality and transport had been great, bar a few teething problems in the first few days: “It’s been better than I think most people would give it credit for.”

    Asked about their experience as volunteers, they said Sochi 2014 was treating them well: “It has been a very positive experience overall. Our only tiny complaint has been the food in the [volunteers] village.”

    “They calculate all the [food] portions. The portions are not huge but they are fine,” the Swiss added. “Basically we don’t have anything serious to complain about.”

    Written by Mark Bisson.

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