Estimates place a price tag on the Sochi Olympics exceeding $51 billion. To put that into perspective, that is a cost higher than the last 21 Winter Games combined and more expensive than any Summer Games ever held. From the outset these Games have been dogged in controversy. The lead-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics was marked by several major controversies, from allegations of corruption that led to severe cost overruns, concerns about Russia’s ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”, and most recently security concerns and the threat of terror attacks. Now add to that Russia’s behind the scenes involvement in events which led Viktor Yanukovych’s administration to backing away from closer ties with the EU in favour of the Kremlin and the possibility of intervention from Moscow in the ongoing EuroMaidan protests, and it is little wonder people here and internationally are calling for a boycott.
Hot And Cold
When the President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin started talking of the patriotism the Sochi Olympics would cause to swell in the hearts of his fellow Russians, he probably didn’t tell them how much they would pay for that feeling of pride. This year’s Olympics Games break two records simultaneously. As well as being the most expensive, they will be the warmest games in history.
This ice-and-snow competition will be held in Russia’s warmest climate – Sochi has always been known as a summer resort and for many its selection came as a surprise. With an average winter temperature of 10 degrees Celsius, Sochi is positively balmy compared to the Arctic conditions experienced by the rest of the country. The choice was perhaps the earliest indicator of future book-cooking, and sure enough the original budget of $12 billion soon spiralled out of control. Corruption? It goes without saying. In one interview, Head of the Russian Anticorruption Coalition for Sochi Yuriy Maryan hinted every object constructed in preparation for the Games was handled by a company connected to a high ranking official. Russian opposition activists Leonid Martynyuk and Boris Nemtsov are of the opinion about $30 billion for the budget blowout simply vanished during preparations for the Games. British daily The Guardian reports Nemtsov in an interview with television channel RBK in July who spoke of a road between Sochi, where events such as ice hockey, speed skating and figure skating will be held, and the mountain sports cluster of Krasnaya Polyana costing about $8.6 billion. “You could have paved this road with 5 million tonnes of gold or caviar and the price would have been the same,” he is quoted as saying.
Shift Of Attention
The price Russia paid for the road is little less than the total price of the previous Winter Olympics – Vancouver 2010 – which cost $8.9 billion. Number two on the list of the most expensive Olympics ever is the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the cost of which topped $43 billion – a price not mired in corruption scandals but merely China pulling out all stops to show its might as a new economic superpower. The London Olympics in 2012 were, by comparison, a very frugal affair costing just $13.9 billion.
Despite the costs smacking of corruption, Putin claims otherwise, saying everything is above board, and the cost overrides were caused by the huge volumes of construction materials needed and the amount of work. Then, just as the talks of corruption were heating up in the summer of 2013, Putin signed laws that clamped down on what was termed “homosexual propaganda”. Despite provoking outrage worldwide, the legislation served to turn the spotlight away from costs. Then two weeks ago, as the furore about the legislation refused to die, Putin made a bizarre statement. Gay people would not be subjected to harassment at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, as long as they stayed away from children, he said. He has since had to pull out the stock-standard “some of my best friends are gay” statement in a bid to diffuse the situation, and has spoken of his admiration for Elton John.
Victims Of Sochi?
With tight controls on media, in a country like Russia it’s difficult to sort fact from fiction when it comes to coverage. State-orientated mouthpieces reported generous salaries for construction workers at Sochi, others stated people were working like slaves for miserable money. There are allegations of 25 people killed in 40 accidents at Olympic construction sites and money was spent to cover up their deaths. True or not, who knows? And while there may or may not have been deaths at construction sites, deaths are a possibility if Sochi becomes a target for terrorists. And the warnings are coming from intelligence sources from outside Mother Russia such as the UK, where officials warn terrorist attacks are “very likely to occur” either before or during the Olympics.
An assessment out of Whitehall cites the Caucasus group, Imarat Kavkaz (IK) as being the main threat. The IK’s leader, Emir Doku Umarov, has called on his followers to try their best to disrupt the Games. Further rumours involve a Volgograd terrorist cell. On 29 and 30 December two suicide bombers attacked Vologograd trolleybuses killing 34 people. Then, on 19 January, they uploaded a clip to YouTube claiming responsibility and promising Putin they would target Sochi. The Russian FSB (Federal Security Service) has yet to track those responsible, leading to many international diplomats asking their citizens to think again about going to Sochi.
A $50 Billion Party
Still, despite all the controversy, the show must, and will go on. So what will a $50 billion sporting spectacular look like? With so much money spent on the Olympic Games you’d expect every Russian citizen is anticipating seeing something magnificent to evoke feelings of patriotism. The world also will be waiting with baited breathe to witness the most-expensive sporting event ever.
The 16 days of the 22nd Winter Olympiad will feature 98 events over 15 disciplines in seven sports. Eighty-eight nations have qualified at least one athlete, and it is expected 5,500 will take part. More than 25,000 volunteers and 12,000 journalists will work to ensure things run smoothly and ensure blanket coverage of all events. The Games are expected to be watched by a television audience of 3 billion worldwide. And all of this in a resort town where snow has been lacking so far this winter. Maybe Putin still has a rabbit to pull from his sleeve and will manufacture or import snow from elsewhere to show the world – anything is possible in Russia, even deep snow in a summer resort.
of Winter Olympics Sochi 2014
7 February at 19.00
Ukrainians in Sochi
The Ukrainian Olympic team has 24 berths for Sochi Winter Olympics. Our athletes will compete in nine of 15 sports, namely in biathlon (11 athletes), figure skating (6 athletes), luge (6 athletes), freestyle (6 athletes), cross country skiing (7 athletes), alpine skiing (2 athletes), snowboarding (2 athletes), Nordic combined (1 athlete) and short track (1 athlete). The budget Ukraine has spent for this Olympic Games is about $4 million, including scholarships for athletes. We would like to wish all 42 Olympians the best of luck in what are trying times for the Motherland.
by Vadym Mishkoriz and Jared Morgan