If it seemed crazy to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics in an area that has a sub-tropical climate and known insurgent groups nearby, then wait until you read about the outrageous and over-the-top costs of setting up the Olympics in Sochi. The price tag for setting up the Sochi Games in Russia is the highest ever, grossly exceeding budgeted costs, and some claim as much as two-thirds of the expenses were lost to corruption.
Statistsa, an online statistics resource, published a graph showing the estimated and actual costs of some of the major projects in Sochi, such as arenas and related infrastructure. The project which went over its budget the most was the Laura Biathlon and Ski Complex, which was initially estimated to cost $500 million. The total costs are expected to exceed a whopping $2.7 billion.
About $9.4 billion has been spent connecting Sochi with a ski resort about 25 miles away. That road and railway used to connect Krasnaya Polyana was described by the Wall Street Journal as costing an alarming $200 million per kilometer.
Politician Boris Nemstov, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, told media outlets, “They may as well have paved it in platinum or caviar.”
Some say few accounting records of the project exist. Brett Forrest wrote in Vanity Fair recently that an anonymous source told him, “I have never seen a budget in Sochi.” Forrest’s article details a high level of organized corruption and links to friends of Putin who may have profited from the financial catastrophe that has plagued the project.
Putin said the charges of corruption are false, and that cost overruns can be attributed to honest mistakes in calculations of projected expenses. “If anybody has got this information, please show this to us,” Putin said. “But so far we haven’t seen anything except speculation.” Meanwhile, criminal investigations have been opened against three staff members of Olympstroi, the state-run company charged with most of the construction and its oversight.
At least one man says corruption cost him his family’s home. Sochi resident Yevgeny Mzokov told the Telegraph that Olympic officials came to his home in the spring of 2012 and told him it had to be removed to build a road necessary for the upcoming games. “We told them ‘OK, pay the market price, and no problem.’ They agreed,” he explained, but said his family hasn’t been compensated since the 12 extended family members moved out. He said his elderly father was dragged out by bailiffs and authorities have refused to offer compensation or any form of housing for the family. Mzokov believes the money was embezzled by local officials, and also believes his employer was pressured into firing him because he has spoken out about his situation. “They are trying to put me in jail,” he said.
Problematic conditions for visitors
Accusations of corruption and enormous cost overruns are not the only issues said to be problematic at the Sochi Games site. Completion of construction projects have reportedly been delayed. News that many of the hotels in Sochi were unfinished or under par went viral. Construction of only six of nine hotels where media members were being accommodated were reportedly finished by the opening date.
Reporters took to Twitter and their networks, depicting dirty tap water, toilets built without any privacy features, and unfinished construction such as bus stops. Images of dangerous conditions, such as missing manhole covers, are all over the Internet as well. CNN’s Harry Reekie noted on Twitter that CNN had booked 11 rooms five months in advance of the games, but only one was available upon arrival. Once checked in, Reekie posted an image of a fallen window curtain and described the room as being in “shambles.”
Like Putin, officials from the International Olympic Committee were quick to downplay the problems. IOC President Thomas Bach said, “There are still some issues to be solved as it is always just before the Games.”
Reports of stray dogs, including some which travel in packs, roaming the city and making their way into Olympic rehearsal events prompted a gruesome response from local officials. It has been reported that a local pest control company was contracted to pick up the dogs and euthanize them, but Mark Adams, an IOC spokesman also downplayed the issue. Adams claimed, “It would be absolutely wrong to say that any healthy dog will be destroyed.” Animal rights groups have headed into the area to try to save some of the dogs.
Until now, China held the record for the most spent on preparing to host the Olympic games. In the run-up to the 2008 Summer Games, China spent $40 billion. That same year, Canada only spent about $7 to $8.7 billion, depending on the sources, to host the Winter Games in Vancouver.
While many believe that an influx of tourist dollars can bolster the economy of a region, many cities are left behind with new infrastructure like stadiums which don’t provide much practical use when the games are over. Some go on to new lives as prisons or malls, according to the film “The Olympic City,” based on a book and an ongoing documentary photography project by photographer John Pack and independent filmmaker Gary Hustwit of “Helvetica” fame. Others languish and become ruins because the buildings are costly to maintain or demolish.
With all of the problems surrounding the build up to the 2014 Winter Olympic games, one has to wonder what the IOC was thinking when it selected Sochi for the event.