From Russia with love: Sochi volunteers give good vibes
Russia's legion of Olympic volunteers have given the Sochi Games a human touch.
February 10th, 2014
01:24 PM ET

From Russia with love: Sochi volunteers give good vibes

It's not a fashionable thing, to report good news.

As a reporter the focus is all too often on unearthing the "sexier" headline and go straight for the jugular. And let's face it, Sochi has had plenty of bad press.

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead" as theologian Jan Pelikan once said and I'm in romantic mood, and not only because Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

So here's a thought for you – Sochi is proving more charming than anticipated.

The scenery is awe-inspiring, the climate is a winter tonic to a rain-sodden, Englishman's bones and the sporting adventure is a daily marvel.

It all goes to raise the pulse and underline the privilege that employment, in telling sport stories, can afford.

But there is another factor which has proved greater to all the above in creating that intangible sense of celebration, goodwill and friendship that is at the heart of all Olympic Games' ambition. And that factor is the volunteers.

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Since arriving in Sochi, I must have spoken to well over a hundred of these unpaid Games helpers.

Their number is legion and they are so numerous it's hard to walk 10 yards on a freezing mountain road or a sunny coastal pathway without bumping into a pair of them.

Which is lucky, because I've I often found myself lost, or in the wrong place, or unable to comprehend simple signs like "Enter cable car here."

Without fail, each rainbow-jacketed volunteer I have approached for help to find a way through my befuddlement has been enthusiastic and friendly to the point of disbelief.

The effect is powerful.

Your heart maybe of stone, your body devoid of any empathetic sinew yet still the vibe of goodwill and greeting emanating from this bunch would breach your defences quicker than a bobsleigh boosted by an afterburner.

Most of the volunteers I have spoken to are students who, keen to brush up and expand their language skills, rushed to take part in a piece of their country's history by enrolling through their university.

They've travelled from St. Petersburg in the west to Magaden in the east, from the capital Moscow in the north to the countryside of the steppes. Some have even come from overseas.

All to stand here, often in the freezing cold, to cheer up any soul who is becoming stressed, unhappy or disillusioned by what can be the overwhelming experience of an Olympic Games.

Everyone knows Russia, like any other country, is a land that is far from perfect.

Everyone knows the political backdrop and right-minded concerns that many critics have leveled at Vladimir Putin's government in the buildup to Sochi.

But politics aside, the volunteers show a glimpse of a new generation.

They seem keen to learn, keen to meet people from nations far and wide, and they seem excited about a project which to young eyes must be exciting in its positivity and scale.

Sochi is putting Russia on the map like never before and the young Russians I have met seem buoyant because of it.

Of course, when the Games are over reality will no doubt bite once again and the challenges of trying to start a career and make a way in the world will return to the front of their minds.

But, as Britain knows from London 2012, even a brief romance can work wonders for a grizzled, old soul. So, from Russia, with love...

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Niels

    Thanks alot, Ben. Nice article. IMO, visitors of Sochi should make a little effort and learn the culture and history of the nation hosting Olympics.

    February 10, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Reply
    • Olga Kutyokokoff

      It might see fine and dandy on the surface but Russia uses those volunteers like slaves. Unpaid and living in bad conditions, they exploit them because... they can. Just like they exploited the construction workers. That's the system and you cannot change that. Enjoy totalitarian regime while you can!

      February 15, 2014 at 8:10 pm | Reply
      • Андрей

        Everything at us is excellent and all volunteers are glad that they here. Russia – the country best in the world! And we have no totalitarianism!

        February 17, 2014 at 7:18 pm |
  2. Jonathan Edwards - Olympian

    Great article Ben. In every Olympics it's the volunteers who are the glue. All unpaid. All there for the love of the event. From the officials to the lady telling you where the bathroom is. They hold it all together with a smile often living in not so ideal accomodations. All for that jacket that they all get. You walk in any Olympic city years after the games and you will find them wearing that jacket.

    February 11, 2014 at 6:38 am | Reply
  3. svguss

    A favourable comment about the Sochi Olympics?! How come it's possible in British press?! :)
    Well, thanks a bunch.

    February 11, 2014 at 7:53 am | Reply
  4. Pat Brown

    Finally some objectivity!
    Enough with hoaxes of double toilets, broken handles ...
    Embrace the Olympic spirit and learn about the great country that Russia is

    February 11, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Reply
    • Olga Kutyokokoff

      It is only great if you don't live here. If you happen to live here... it is not so great. If you love it so much, why not to move to Russia? Thousands of Russians are trying to get out.

      February 15, 2014 at 8:12 pm | Reply
  5. VLADDY

    there is definitely something wrong with this World, CNN recognized the best channel At the same time If to talk in general it investigates with a magnifier a very small negative thing about Sochi and refuse to see big positive things. Thanks Ben a lot for a positive response to the critics.

    February 12, 2014 at 7:14 am | Reply
  6. instareporters

    Great photos on Instagram. Thank you.

    February 12, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Reply
  7. Scott Winter

    As a Sochi volunteer from the US, it is nice to see some positive press about our great volunteers here at the games! These kids have worked hard to get here and the recognition is well deserved. Thanks!

    February 13, 2014 at 2:48 am | Reply
  8. Fred Bastiat

    Ben Wyatt, please read Gulag Archipelago and be forever cured of your ignorance and Stalin worship. There are the dead and then there are the murdered. If you want to inject politics and social commentary and trumpet Stalin's social justice accomplishments, then I think you should be prepared to exclaim how you feel the decades of poverty, the murders, forced labor, and imprisonment of the innocent fit into those accomplishments.

    Please explain? I'm eager to learn more about Stalin from you.

    February 14, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Reply
  9. Vadim

    Fred Bastiat, Stalin died in 1953. You still have not called? ))))
    Funny you Americans:)

    February 17, 2014 at 9:25 am | Reply
  10. Janet

    Its nice to know that a CNN reporter said something nice about the games. The night time TV( International) seemed to be finding fault all the time with Russia's Olympics.after they were over. Heaven forbid they say the games were a success.without adding 'buts'. I couldn't see the closing Ceremony but it looked stunning.GIve credit where credit is due, CNN.

    February 26, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  11. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Reports say the Sochi Games were a big success. Hearty congratulations to the participants, fans and the organizers.

    March 1, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Reply

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