With the summer of 2013 just about to start, next February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia may not be at the top of most people’s thoughts. But there are already a couple of reasons that Sochi Olympics are falling short of what the Games are said to stand for — a “universal quest for peace, moral integrity and an exalted mix of mind, body, and spirit that transcends culture.”
1. If these Games don’t turn out to be the most corrupt ever, they could be the most expensive.
As much as $30 billion may have been stolen to produce the Olympics, says a recent report by Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, and Leonid Martynyuk, a member of the Solidarity movement. That is quite a bit more than the $12 billion that Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Olympics would cost.
By analyzing financial and other data — specifically, the difference between the original estimate of what the Olympics would cost and the final cost and then comparing this with cost overruns from previous Olympics — Nemtsov and Martynyuk write that “the expenses for the Winter Olympics in Sochi turned out to be more than all expenses for all the sports structures at the previous 21 Winter Olympics put together.”
The reason that the Sochi Olympics have already become a “monstrous scam” is a lack of fair competition and secrecy. Most of the funds are benefiting oligarchs and companies with ties to Putin, says the report.
2. One reason for the high cost: these Winter Olympics will be held in a city with a subtropical climate.
Located on the Black Sea coast, Sochi — a favorite spot of Putin — is Russia’s only beach resort, where, in contradiction to Russia’s reputation as a land of snow and ice, temperatures average 43 degrees in the winter. Some past winter sporting competitions in the region have had to be cancelled due to lack of snow.
At the Olympic site, palm trees can be seen not far from where hockey players will skate. Authorities have had to install special ceiling fixtures and wall tiles in the hockey arena “after developers realized the balmy temperature outside was harming the ice.” Russia has bought ice machines from Finland (it has a total of 400 ready) and is also stockpiling 500,000 cubic meters of snow under isothermal fabrics in the mountains above Sochi.
3. Protesters arrested after last year’s rallies have been tried in “Soviet-era” show trials.
Russia’s human rights record remains as troubled as ever. Earlier this month, twelve Russians who were arrested at an anti-Putin rally last May went on trial. Ten appeared in the court in the glass cage or “aquarium”; two others are under house arrest and cannot leave Moscow.
All of the protesters — none of them leaders of the protest movement but “rank-and-file” members — were detained after a May 6, 2012 rally in which tens of thousands marched to Bolotnaya Square in Moscow. The rally was the culmination of protests that began after Putin’s party was victorious in parliamentary elections. Things turned violent when, says Georgy Satarov (a former aide to ex-President Boris Yeltsin), the protesters were pushed into a confined area and panic ensued. For their part, the authorities say protesters rioted and injured police.
Former chess champion and anti-Kremlin activist Garry Kasparov, whom Moscow investigators want to question, says that he has chosen to remain outside Russia since February as it has become clear that he “might be part of this ongoing investigation of the activities of the political protest.” Two other anti-Putin activists, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, both members of the punk collective Pussy Riot, remain imprisoned in penal colonies after being convicted last August on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for performing a punk prayer on the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February of 2012.
4. Sochi’s Olympic structures were built with little regard for workers’ rights or the environment.
At least 70,000 people — including tens of thousands of migrants — working under an accelerated schedule were needed to transform Sochi from a small resort town into an international Olympic site, says a report from Human Rights Watch. Workers employed at key Olympic venues such as the Central Olympic Stadium and the Main Olympic Village have endured exploitation and abuse, working 12 hour shifts with only one day off per month, being cheated or denied wages and living in overcrowded housing (200 migrant workers had to live in one single-family house).
One reason for the accelerated pace of construction was that Sochi lacked most of the infrastructure necessary for a huge endeavor like the Olympics. Indeed, Sochi contains a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Western Caucasus reserve which is “one of the few large mountain areas of Europe that has not experienced significant human impact,” with pastures that have “only been grazed by wild animals” and with “extensive tracts of undisturbed mountain forests.”
But the impact on Sochi’s fragile ecosystems seems not to have been taken fully into account. After construction of the Olympic site began a few years ago, the United Nations criticized Russia for failing to take “into account the cumulative … effects of the various projects on the ecosystems of the Sochi region and its population.” Indigenous populations of bears and birds have lost their habitats; toxic waste from drilling has spilled into the Mzymta River; groves and groves of beech trees have been cleared to provide space for transportation to Olympic venues.
5. To make sure the Olympics are the “safest in history,” Russia is deploying a massive security force.
Tens of thousands of Russian troops, police officers, private guards, drones, robotic vehicles, high-speed patrol boats: Russia is planning to deploy all of these to make sure that the Sochi Olympics go off without a hitch, says the Washington Post.
Sochi already has tight security as Putin has a presidential residence in the Black Sea resort. This will clearly be intensified and all the more so as Sochi lies only about 300 miles west of the Russian province of Dagestan, the very place where the elder of the two Tsarnaev brothers who have been accused of staging the Boston bombings spent six months in 2012. Police shootings and bombings occur nearly every day daily in Dagestan. The very North Causcasus mountains that overshadow Sochi are home to an Islamic insurgency.
Should any incident occur, rescue workers would be hard-pressed to come to the aid of any injured at Olympic sites because of Sochi’s “severe logical issues” which include “chronic traffic jams.”
Perhaps the question to ask is what convinced the Olympic Games Committee that Sochi would be the best location for the 2014 games in the first place?
Photo via Wikimedia Commons