Wednesday, February 12, 2014

High and Dry

While pictures of Vladimir Putin raising his glass and offering toasts (likely “to evil”) are easy to find, it turns out that it’s not so simple for visitors in Sochi to whet their whistles. Russia's Ban on Alcohol in Sochi Arenas Leaves Drinkers Flat:

At long last, Morgan Simms thought. Inside the Olympic curling center Tuesday afternoon, the 25-year-old Canadian spotted a welcome sign—Beer.

"I got excited," he said. But like most beer sold inside the Olympic Park, these cans of Russian brew Baltika were nonalcoholic. "They're just playing games with my heart," he said.

Russia, whose most famous export may be vodka, is staging the driest Olympics in memory. For many fans, it is the biggest upset of the Winter Games. A new federal law last year prohibited the sale of alcohol inside sports stadiums and arenas. And a local ordinance last month banned alcohol sales within 50 meters of some sports venues.

The strict approach reflects both the Kremlin's recent efforts to wean Russians from their legendary love of the sauce, and the unpleasant memories of drunken, unruly fans at the last Winter Games in Vancouver.

For the Sochi Games, real beer is a scarce commodity in the Olympic Park, and vodka even rarer. "We were looking for a sports bar or something, but we haven't seen one," said 26-year-old Alyona Minakova of St. Petersburg, walking with her twin sister near the speedskating arena Tuesday. "It seems like there should be one."

In the mountain Olympic venues, which are outdoors and not subject to restrictions, the alcohol flows freely. At the snowboard halfpipe Tuesday, fans drank from cans of alcoholic Baltika and cups of mulled wine.

But at indoor ice venues along the Black Sea, drinking options are limited. The lone restaurant in the Olympic Park has a full bar. And alcoholic beer is sold at two Coca-Cola food stand areas and a larger food court. But with so much nonalcoholic beer on sale, the real thing is hard to find.

I’ve had various versions of the “real” Baltika before and it ain’t all that. I can’t imagine how disappointing the non-alcoholic version would be.

Some of the Olympic events are so exciting and engaging that the lack of beer is just a nuisance. For others however, the impact is more profound.

The sentiment has surprised some foreign visitors, particularly at events where drinking is common in other countries. "Who wants to watch curling sober?" said Scott Simms, the 27-year-old brother of Morgan Simms. "No one. I'll tell you that right now."

I hear you brother. It’s hard to watch curling on television sober.

Some countries have founds ways to ensure that their citizens are supplied with the basic necessities.

Just off the Olympic Park, temporary fan houses offer alcohol to visiting countrymen. The Canada house, for instance, has a refrigerated dispenser of Molson beer, free with a swipe of a Canadian passport. But entry to the houses is often limited to visitors with ties to national Olympic committees.

Free beer for all Canadians in Sochi? You gotta love our neighbors to the north.