Sochi spotlight: cost exceeds $50 billion 

New report details Russia's excessive Olympics, COC trusts Russian security plans

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER HALLORAN/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - COLD WAR Mitt Romney thinks letting Russia host the Winter Olympic Games and Paralympics was a mistake.
  • PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER HALLORAN/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • COLD WAR Mitt Romney thinks letting Russia host the Winter Olympic Games and Paralympics was a mistake.

A report in Bloomberg Businessweek from Jan. 2 shed some new light on the ballooning costs of Russia's first Olympics, which have now surpassed $51 billion.

None of the figures contained in the piece written by Joshua Yaffa are particularly new, but the article does look more in-depth at some of the corrupt practices and mismanagement that have contributed to the rising costs.

Before the Sochi Games, the 2008 Olympics in Beijing previously held the honour of being the most expensive, carrying a price tag of $40 billion. But to put that into context, a Summer Games features at least three times as many athletes, events and venues compared to a Winter Games.

The Olympic and Paralympic activity at Sochi will take place between what's known as the "Coastal Cluster" in the town itself, located on the Black Sea near the Russia-Georgia border. Alpine, Nordic, freestyle and sliding events will be staged at the "Mountain Cluster," situated about 50 kilometres away.

The rail and road links connecting the two clusters have come in at $8.7 billion — more than the entire cost of the 2010 Olympics alone. An eye-opening passage from the Businessweek story states that a Russian Esquire article estimated that for the amount the Russian government has spent on the connection, "it could have been paved entirely with a centimetre-thick coating of beluga caviar."

Poor planning and favouritism in awarding contracts have also helped break the original budget of $12 billion that Russian President Vladimir Putin detailed to the IOC during the bid process back in 2007. Childhood friends of Putin's were awarded much of the construction work and companies with close ties to the Kremlin were given other contracts without a public tender. According to the Businessweek article, a Russian law requiring state companies to hold public tenders only came into effect in 2012.

The article also details complaints from contractors who were directed to payout Kremlin officials in kickback schemes, but police investigations and prosecution attempts have been unsuccessful. One former Russian Olympic Committee vice-president who was overseeing construction on the ski jumping facility, which exceeded its budget by more than six times, was fired and an investigation launched, but he fled the country and later turned up seeking treatment for mercury poisoning at a clinic in Germany.

The story is a collection of absurd practices that are making the Sochi Olympics unprecedented in their excess. Visit www.businessweek.com for the full article.

Canada confident in Russian security

Despite two terrorist attacks in the Russian city of Volgograd on Dec. 29 and 30, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) remains confident that its athletes and staff will be safe during their time in nearby Sochi. The suicide bombings in Volgograd, targeting a train station and trolley bus, killed 34 people. Volgograd is located about 700 km northeast of Sochi.

COC president Marcel Aubut issued a statement expressing "complete faith" in the Sochi organizing committee's security plans.

"We also believe in their ability to work collaboratively with other governments and national Olympic committees to ensure that all necessary measures are in place," added Aubut.

Chechen Islamist rebel Doku Umarov is the prime suspect behind the attacks, having threatened to disrupt the Olympics just weeks prior, calling them the "satanic Games."

#WeAreWinter launches

#WeAreWinter, a series of mini-documentaries focused on Canadian Olympians, was unveiled on New Year's Day by the COC. Mark McMorris, Kaillie Humphries, Mikael Kingsbury and Rosalind Groenewoud are among the featured athletes.

All of the videos have been compiled at www.olympic.ca/wearewinter and some of them feature Whistler and Squamish as filming locations. They're worth your time regardless of how familiar you are with the athletes being highlighted.

Mitt would have said 'Nyet'

Former U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney told Fox News this week that he thinks holding the Olympics in Sochi is a mistake. The one-time Massachusetts governor said it's his opinion that awarding the Olympics and Paralympics to Russia sends a negative political message.

"In my view, Russia has not been a particularly collaborative player on the world stage," Romney told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, citing the country's anti-gay laws, harbouring of Edward Snowden and support for leadership in Syria and Iran as black marks on Russia's record.

"They have a right to make their bid. But, they do strain the view of people like myself as to their leadership and their characterization of the Olympic spirit."

Normally, a defeated presidential candidate's moral objections to an Olympic site aren't newsworthy, but Romney was the CEO of the organizing committee for the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. He is also acting as an advisor to a group preparing a bid for Boston to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Pique's Sochi Spotlight will highlight weekly headlines around the upcoming Winter Games as part of ongoing Olympic coverage.

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