The stakes are high for the Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the third year of his third presidential term, Putin faces stringent international media scrutiny over the upcoming Sochi Games and its allied Paralympics. Billed as Putin`s legacy project, it`s estimated that the country has so far spent over $50 billion for the Games, which is a gargantuan amount for any event.
Since its selection as the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Sochi – better known for its tropical beach resort, has overseen a massive construction project to make it a glowing, modern city. But strangely, Sochi is too warm a place to be holding the Winter Games, which need knee-deep snow for most of the skiing events.
With the amount of money pumped in and the President`s own intervention, most part of Sochi will be snow-capped when athletes, officials and tourist start to arrive for the 7-23 February multi-sporting event. However, beneath the gloss and success stories, there are numerous claims and counter-claims over the ecological effects following the large scale human intervention, cases of embezzlement and corruption, and possible threat to sexual minorities during the games.
Even if we keep aside such purportedly negative propaganda about the Games, the actual cost of holding this event has spiralled into such a level, that many have started to question its very purpose. When Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, world`s most populous country spent more than $40 billion. In the 302-event sporting gala, near about 11,000 athletes were accommodated besides hosts of officials and tourists.
Then, many argued that the money could have better utilised for more urgent needs of its billion strong population, environmental projects and all round infrastructure development. Yes, there is legacy infrastructure, but its sustainability is directly related to the purpose. And, amidst reports of unfinished projects, government officials, powerful private constructors have been accused of making a profit from the Games.
And same applies for Sochi.
For a country fighting economic revival, it’s not always about the image. The 2014 Winter Games, since the fall of USSR, is going to be the biggest sporting and cultural event to be staged in Russia. And rightly, the government has chosen it to be one vehicle with which Russia`s imminence as a world power can be shown to the world. If the preceding Olympics have managed to portray an image serene, pure and all beautiful of such countries as England, Canada, China and so on, then Sochi Games should also be allowed to serve a similar purpose for the Russians.
Having said that, the amount of money – both public and private, they have so far spent or rather overspent on the Games, has created a worldwide alarm. It`s indeed a bad, very bad precedent. Imagine the amount of money a country needs to earmark for future games. Sochi will be hosting another high profile sporting event, that of Formula One, later in the year and also be one of the host cities for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and many have justified the large scale construction there.
However, post 23 February 2014, when the Sochi Games come to a close, many will return home having experienced being a part of the most expensive Olympics ever. For many more, it will stand out as a legacy for the sheer amount of labour and money put into it to make it a grand success. But for many others, the money spent on the Games could have secured them a better future had it been invested wisely with some astute decision making.