06 July 2007

Russia's Olympic Coup

Sochi 2014The International Olympic Committee's decision to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in preference to the other final round candidate cities—Austria's Salzburg and South Korea's Pyeongchang—is an opportunity to expose the country's wanton legacy of human rights abuses, just as 2008 has enabled the spotlight to be thrown on China's poor rights record. President Putin, however, is painting the decision in a very different light, claiming that being awarded the Olympics by "one of the most authoritative and independent international organisations" was a recognition of Russia's growing economic and cultural importance in the world. Many Russians are also hailing the IOC vote as proof of their country's resurgence.

However, with the prospect of hundreds of homes needing to be destroyed to make way for new facilities, the games will only increase the growing divide between Russia's rich and poor. It is said that almost everything will have to be built from scratch, with an estimated £6 billion required just to make Sochi's infrastructure conform to international standards. Unlike the investment required for London in 2012, it is unlikely that there will be any long-term benefits to anyone except Russia's oligarchs. What's more, environmentalists are concerned that the Krasnaya Polona ski area, where many events are to be held, is part of a nature reserve and the Olympic Village is to be built on the edge of the West Caucasus National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Black Sea coastal city of Sochi is described as "a worn-out resort of traffic jams, ramshackle Soviet-era hotels and aging villas" and is famed for its palm trees and "surprisingly warm climate." Quite evidently the perfect venue for the international games... As a US State Department spokesman has put it: "I'm not sure that the selection of Russia to host the Winter Olympics really, at this point, changes our view or others' views — or concerns — about the direction of democracy and related issues ... human rights, respect for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and to be able to peaceably organise opposition democratic parties."