Touchdown in Sochi the Russian Olympic experience begins
The trip to Sochi is the culmination of the last three and a half years spent working on media rights deals for the Games for one of our consultants, Raj Koria.
I have had the privilege of being involved with the commercial rights of some great sporting events over the years and the best part has always been working at the event itself, seeing how everything in the contracts operates on the ground. My job here is to work on last minute contractual matters and advise on any issues that arise in connection with a set of broadcasters. Over the next three weeks I hope to give you a sense of what it is like being at the Games and working at a big sports event. I’ll begin with the day I arrived, which was fairly typical of a working day at an event: exhausting but a lot of fun.
Sochi is a tricky place to get to. Ordinarily, you have to fly via the likes of Moscow and Istanbul, which can make it a long journey. Luckily, for the Games, there are daily charter flights from Zurich, so I found myself in the departure lounge at Zurich airport waiting to board flight WK2014(!) with colleagues, administrators, officials and many athletes. I spotted Olympians from Canada, France, Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Italy (sporting a stylish Emporio Armani kit) and Sweden (in a less glamorous but, some might say, equally stylish H&M kit). There was a buzz of excitement as everyone boarded and the cheery Swiss pilot took every opportunity during the flight to remind his passengers he was taking us to the Games.
On arrival, immigration went very smoothly, with my confirmation of accreditation operating as my visa. Collecting my suitcase, however, proved to be a trial of patience. The luggage came out slowly in batches and there was a lot of it with the teams bringing all their kit. I have never seen so many ski bags in one place. The wait allowed an opportunity to mingle. Team Ireland consists of five members, three of whom were on my flight. A couple of Americans struck up a conversation with each other and became instant comrades in their pursuit of somewhere to watch the Superbowl later that night. Team Italia had brought over a hundred, mostly identical, suitcases – I did not envy the job of the kit person responsible for them all. Some of the athletes looked relaxed and happily posed for photos with volunteers; others paced around with nervous energy. Eventually, an hour after I passed through immigration, my suitcase arrived. Apparently around two hundred flights are due to land the day before the opening ceremony. Sochi airport’s arrivals hall, with its two luggage conveyor belts, may have to speed things up a little!
Fortunately, a member of our group is fluent in Russian so, after weaving our way through the melee outside the airport, and declining the invitation to put our suitcases onto one of the two trucks carrying Team Italia’s luggage, we quickly found the bus to our hotel, which is a brand new 11-building complex for broadcast staff. After checking in, we sought out one of the many restaurants on the grounds of the complex. We decided on Russian food and nine of us settled down for a long-anticipated meal, next to a lively table of people working for an Australian broadcaster. On seeing that our table was too small for our group, our Aussie colleagues very kindly shuffled along and moved one of their tables to ours. We learned that they had travelled 32 hours to get to Sochi, had been in the restaurant for past six hours and were quite well oiled by this time. After the meal we wished our new friends from down under goodnight, and headed back to our rooms – via a bar for a couple of quick rounds of vodka shots. When in Rome…