In case you were wondering if $51 billion spent on the Sochi Winter Olympics will show…yes is the answer. The event has been pursued as one of state prestige of personal importance to Putin. A lot of selected people have made a lot of money…largely there were no tender processes, poor communications across projects about specific construction requirements and so serious changes at various stages, In whichever way companies/contractors were appointed, about 70% of investment is financed by the Vnesheconombank (VEB), on some projects as much as 90% is covered. There is talk of paybacks to officials. Bloomberg comments (6-12 January 2014) “It can be hard to determine at which point inefficient and repeated work becomes outright theft, but there seems to have plenty of that at Sochi.”
Spectacular venues through to stunning red uniforms for the Russian athletes, a four-month long torch relay that included extreme fantasies, plenty of volunteers, near saturation security, a resort carved out of almost nothing with modern infrastructure, albeit that plenty of pockets have been lined on the way. The organisers have received over $400 million in direct support….maybe that included costs of the making and storage of enough snow to reverse global warming, which brave forecasters are now suggesting may not be needed. Now, another $50 million has been made available by the Russian government. You can be sure that any event or reception involving Putin will be catered with more than black bread and kvass.
The Main Media Centre for the Olympics and Paralympics have been officially opened. There are 4 halls within the MMC…aptly named Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. The Gorki Media Centre located in the Mountain Cluster is due to open on 24 January.
Armed with nearly 500 snowmaking machines, Sochi is well equipped to stockpile large quantities of snow. In preparation for an emergency, Sochi has even created an above-zero snow making plant at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center. Incredibly, this system will allow for snow to be produced at up to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Over 700,000 cubic metres has been stored under thermo protective blankets and some 80% is expected to be accessible. This stored snow is compacted and so relatively heavy and sports competition will require that further lighter snow is generated to provide a suitable top cover.
The much discussed officially sanctioned protest zone will be at the town of Khosta, some 12 km from Olympic venues. Able to be shut down and ‘excised’ if need be. My analogy, see last edition of ‘Back on the Block’, of the airports smoking room concept still applies.
At a month out, Sochi venues and indeed the town had been placed under lock-down. More than 30,000 police and Interior Ministry troops have been deployed and by Games-time it is estimated that 40,000 security personnel will be on duty. From all branches of the military. Vehicle access is restricted as is the sale of firearms, explosives and ammunition, and protests, which are not connected with the Games. Cossacks, once a vital element in Czarist Russian military predominance, repressed but recently given much encouragement, are being drawn in to patrol the Sochi and Volgograd regions. Of course, they’ll want some payback later. Cossacks founded the Krasnodar region in which Sochi is located. I have these visions of fiery horsemen wielding swords swooping through the Olympics…it won’t be so but I’m sure the Cossacks will be, let’s say, very effective. This follows the discovery outside of Sochi of several bodies, murdered people.
The issue about human rights will continue … Who is? Can they? A mayor who says there are no gays in Sochi. Reporters filing stories from sotto voce gay bars in Sochi… what a mess.
The two bombings at Volgograd on 29 and 30 December were the 4th and 5th serious incidents in recent months, within a 1000km radius of Sochi. Notwithstanding the promises and extensive security in place, Sochi does appear vulnerable. Whether more or less so than was, say London, is a moot point.
Declassified Canadian intelligence reports have reiterated the dangers of terrorism at Sochi 2014 and, in particular, the threat posed by Islamist group Imirat Kavkaz and its Chechen leader Doku Umarov. In July, Umarov said “They [Russia] plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims, buried on the territory of our land on the Black Sea, and we as the Mujahideen are obliged to not permit that, using any methods allowed us by the almighty Allah.”
Although there has been much worry about security in the build up to next year's Winter Olympics and Paralympics, this marks the first clear evidence of concerns by a Government.
Recent commentary from the UK suggests terrorist disruption prior to or during the Games is likely. Some suggest it’s only a matter of where and when rather than if. The two Canadian reports, obtained by the National Post after an Access to Information request, are entitled "Potential Terrorist Threats to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games," and "Imirat Kavkaz Calls for Attacks to Stop 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics".
Compiled by the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre, they describe how "Imirat Kavkaz leader Doku Umarov is a fervent Islamist who espouses Al-Qaeda's ideology of global jihad.
"His view that Israeli, United States and British interests are legitimate targets raises concerns any Westerners could be targeted."
A second report, also circulated among Government officials, described how Umarov has called for attacks on what he calls the "Satanic Games" in Sochi.
So will the idea of a more manageable Games take hold? Thomas Bach, IOC President, has recently deftly placed the costs and vision of Sochi into a longer term context, which is of course the legacy focus and long term benefits that the IOC likes to promote.
There are many lessons to be gained from this cautionary tale according to Rod Windover, Special Adviser to the 2010 Winter Games. Foremost among them are: the measures to ensure the accountability and transparency of public and private agencies responsible for the development of Olympic and Paralympic projects, the thoroughness of strategic and operational planning, adherence to stated values and sound principles including sustainability and the strength of partnership relations and agreements that ensure the highest level of inter-governmental and societal collaboration.
With thanks to Populous