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Sochi complaints are similar to those of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair

Enjoying the view at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair
Enjoying the view at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair
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As the Sochi Winter Olympics officially open today, sharp criticisms are mounting as high as Everest, and the games have hardly begun. The Russians are under enormous world scrutiny as they begin to host the Olympic Winter Games.

Tensions are soaring over the safety of the millions of spectators and athletes.

Gays have not been extended a friendly invitation. Mr. Putin has made it clear that he is anti-gay, but "they are welcome", he says, but , “they must leave children in peace.” Putin is clearly misguided.

Animal lovers aren’t happy either. The Russians are clearing the streets of all stray dogs that might potentially bother visitors or interrupt the games.. So, the Russians are poisoning thousands of dogs each day.

Only 60% of the hotels are finished. Early arrivals are complaining about the lack of floors, ceilings, plumbing fixtures and more.

And finally, the running water is brown and smells. The complaints are steady and it seems all is lost already at Sochi! But wait, isn’t the Winter Olympics about having fun watching athletes compete?

The concerns about Sochi are similar to those raised about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. As the Winter Olympics presents a big opportunity for Russia to be spotlighted on the world stage, the 1893 World’s Fair offered the same for the United States. The New York Times said that the Chicago World's Fair had to be successful, because the prestige of the entire country was at stake, not just the city. Talk about pressure!

Chicago had a reputation as one of the most violent cities in the country and possibly the world. In the first six months of 1892 over 800 Chicagoans died from violence. Many thought the police could be outnumbered by the criminals. Random acts of violence did take place at the Fair. There were murders, too, but not by terrorists. Discovered after the fair, the city realized that over a hundred fair goers, mostly women, had been quietly kidnapped, tortured and killed by a serial killer. The poor victims had made the mistake of checking in to the killer’s hotel near the fair, which was completely decked out with a chamber of horrors.

In 1893 race, not homophobia, was the bias of the time. The local paper, Chicago Tribune made its appeal for people of color to stay away from the fair. It went as far as stating that the fair was for whites only. One historian suggests that racism existed from the first conception of the fair and only white Europeans and Americans were included in the fair’s overall plan. A few African Americans did attend, but most stayed away because of fear and expense.

Dogs, cats, cows, and horses were considered a problem, too. The concerns were more about the keeping the area clean of cow and horse excrement. There is no mention of how the organizers managed this, but probably not the Russian way.

Like Sochi, Chicago also had construction issues. The original opening date had to be delayed five months to May 1, 1893. Despite the additional time, carpenters were still working on many of the actual buildings used to showcase the “wonders of the world”. Also, some of the exhibits had not been finished. Almost all of the hotels were completed, but those were the days when the public wasn’t so fussy about their sleeping arrangements; some fair goers slept three or four in a bed!

Smelly brown water: well, Chicago had that too. Chicago was almost not picked by the World’s Fair committee because of the high amount of bacteria in their water. Cholera was on the minds of many. Tens of thousands, maybe more decided not to attend the World’s Fair because of the “loudly predicted” fear of catching a disease from the foul water of Chicago. In the end, there were no cholera outbreaks during the fair, and Chicago was congratulated for having made huge sanitation improvements.

History now reflects back on the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as one of America’s shining moments. Despite all the worries and concerns beforehand, it was a big success. Now we come to Sochi. Sochi, too, is hoping to have its shining moment. In time we will know.

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