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Olympic complaints on Twitter more popular than official account

April 8, 2014

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Complaints about hotels and venues at the Winter Olympics in Russia are proliferating to the point where a Twitter account hosting them now has more followers than the official games feed.

The @sochiproblems page has more than 200,000 followers detailing makeshift shower curtains, broken sidewalks and a lack of hot water in Sochi as competition begins. By comparison, @sochi2014 has about 140,000 followers seeing pictures of pristine ski slopes and gleaming venues for the competition starting today.

President Vladimir Putin spent more than $45 billion staging the world’s most expensive Winter Olympics as Russia built 14 venues and added 19,000 hotel rooms around the city on the Black Sea coast. Yet photos posted on Twitter show incomplete roads, glasses of yellow tap water and bathrooms featuring multiple toilets without partitions, undermining Putin’s efforts to promote Sochi as a world-class destination.

“In the past, traditional media would focus on the games, but with new media, all aspects of such global events are put under the spotlight,” said Lo Shih-hung, an associate professor of communications at the National Chung Cheng University in Taiwan. “If hosting the Winter Olympics was a means to help improve Russia’s image or attract tourists, simple propaganda and advertisement isn’t proving to be enough.”

Unfinished buildings, debris-strewn hotel lobbies and packs of stray dogs are among images being posted online, spurring at least 58,000 posts in the past day under the tag #SochiProblems.

In the seven years it took Russia to build the Olympic infrastructure, Twitter added more than 240 million users, making the service’s 140-character messages an outlet for comparing one of the world’s biggest sporting events to a science-fiction novel.

“Ohhhh it’s supposed to be the Olympic Games. Easy mistake; Sochi thought they were hosting the Hunger Games,” said one comment, referring to the 2008 Suzanne Collins story of 24 youths forced to fight to the death for the amusement of a TV audience.

Lowell Bailey, a U.S. competitor in the biathlon, used his account to highlight transit services that are supposed to come every five minutes, yet arrive “once a day, maybe twice.”

A Google search of the term “Sochi problems” returns 293S million results.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who was in charge of Olympic preparations, downplayed the criticism Thursday, telling state television Rossiya 24 that just 103 complaints have been filed by the 100,000 people already in the hotels.

“We don’t have any major problems,” Kozak told the network. “There are some minor complaints regarding hotels, but this is an insignificant percentage. Someone didn’t get his coffee in time, or personnel didn’t smile, or there was a water leakage somewhere.”

Not all Twitter comments about the Olympics have been negative, with U.S. snowboarder Karly Piper Shorr posting, “Pretty cool up in the Olympic Athlete Village.”

Teammate Kelly Clark told followers, “Sochi…so far…Sooo Good.”

In China, host of the 2008 summer Olympic Games, Internet users have joined the raft of teasing its northern neighbors’ handling of the event, taking to the nation’s most popular Twitter-like service, Weibo.

“Too many things to ridicule … can’t even finish … The battle nation being so cheap, does Putin know?” according to a message by a newspaper owned by the Hangzhou Daily Press Group.

Chen reported from Hong Kong.

© 2014, Bloomberg News

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