This week, thousands of westerners—athletes and media—have converged on Sochi, Russia for the Winter Games. And while they lug their expensive camera gear or don their sponsor-laden apparel and compete for gold, silver and bronze medallions, they are not happy. Perhaps you have seen their tweets, status updates and Instagram pics of the horrible conditions they’re forced to endure while spending their time in the Russian city.
Now don’t get me wrong, some of the conditions are, at best, embarrassing. And our athletes deserve better. While they represent our country on the grandest global sports stage, they shouldn’t have to worry about cold showers, group bathrooms without privacy, and insect-laden, half-finished hotel rooms. Russia was obviously not prepared to host the biggest modern day winter sporting event.
But perhaps we need to put things into perspective too. While these conditions are obviously not up to par, they are, for the most part, certainly not “appalling.”
In my travels for Compassion International, I have seen families who live in 6x6 shacks made of scrap wood or tin. They sleep on filthy mattresses or on dirt floors, bathe in rivers and gather their drinking water from those same waterways. Their bathrooms are holes in the ground and many often have open sewage running just outside their doorways. That, my friends, is appalling.
Almost 2.5 billion people in this world live on less than $2 per day. That’s billion with a “b.” Just try feeding your family on that meager income. Over 780-million people live without access to clean water. That’s two and a half times the population of the United States that doesn’t have access to healthy water at all. None of them will get to leave these conditions in two weeks and return to homes with faucets that pump out hot, clean water on demand. They do not get to leave these truly appalling conditions for warm, safe, comfortable homes with private bathrooms at the end of the month. Tomorrow looks as bleak as today. And today is as bleak as yesterday.
I’m not comparing Sochi to villages in Uganda or the slums of Guatemala, Indonesia or Haiti. There is no comparison. Unfinished hotel rooms do not compare to the slum villages of the poorest of the poor. Unfinished bathrooms in the athlete’s dorms are still tiled, with porcelain toilets.
Nor am I saying that these athletes and media don’t have legitimate complaints. But let’s try to keep things in perspective, shall we? And use this opportunity to learn something. Perhaps Sochi is an opportunity to teach us all the difference between first-world problems and third-world realities. There’s a difference between those things we believe we are entitled to and those things that should be available for every human being.