There is a good summation of the problems with the Sochi Winter Olympics by Frances Weaver in The Week today. It’s about what you’d expect from modern day Russia ruled by former KGB agent Vladamir Putin. In fact, the Olympic movement hasn’t seen anything remotely like it.
First, the cost: $51 billion. By contrast, the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 cost around $8 billion. And Putin, who showed up in Guatemala in 2007 to personally lobby the IOC for Sochi, received the bid largely because he promised to spend $12 billion.
How does $12 billion turn into $51 billion?
Attempting to stage winter events in a subtropical resort known as the “Russian Riviera” is an expensive, climate-defying business. Though the 7,600-foot-high slopes at the neighboring mountain resort of Krasnaya Polyana are almost guaranteed February snow, the same can’t be said for the lower slopes or at sea level, where the average daytime winter temperature is a pleasant 52 degrees. So officials have had to drain swamps, store last year’s snow, and install 400 snowmaking machines. Meanwhile, at least 70,000 laborers — many of them migrant workers working seven days a week for as little as $500 a month — were shipped in to build more than a dozen venues, 20,000 new hotel rooms, new roads, bridges, and tunnels, a renovated airport, and new railway lines. There is also a more sinister reason why the budget will surpass even the $40 billion Beijing spent on the extravagant 2008 Summer Olympics.
What is that?
Corruption. “The Sochi Olympics are an unprecedented thieves’ caper,” says former deputy prime minister and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. He claims that some $26 billion in phony costs may have been creamed off by contractors, many of whom are Putin cronies. Consider the new 31-mile road and railway that run from the beachfront town of Adler to the Krasnaya Polyana ski resort, overseen by Vladimir Yakunin, a former KGB general and Putin pal who heads Russian Railways. The new route into Sochi cost an estimated $8.7 billion — more than Vancouver spent staging the entire Winter Olympics in 2010. For that sum, calculated the Russian edition of Esquire, Russia could have paved the entire road with beluga caviar.
A waste of good caviar, that. But what this idiocy really reveals is the nauseating greed of the Olympic “movement.”
It’s important to know that the International Olympic Committee exists for one reason only: to make money for its members and cronies. The pious proclamations about the brotherhood of man and the “Olympic spirit” is a beard to mask the fact that all the marketing, broadcast rights, naming rights (“The Official Underarm Deodorant of the Olympic Games!”), and corporate partnerships are various ways to spread the wealth to favored clients and hangers-on. Some of the billions taken in by the IOC every four years goes to putting on the games. More goes to various Olympic organizing committees and national Olympic committees. But 10% is for “administrative costs.” Where does the other 90% go?
The IOC distributes some of Olympic marketing revenue to organisations throughout the Olympic Movement to support the staging of the Olympic Games and to promote the worldwide development of sport. The IOC retains approximately 10% of Olympic marketing revenue for the operational and administrative costs of governing the Olympic Movement.
The broadcast rights alone for Sochi brought in more than $4 billion, representing 47% of the take. That means that almost $8 billion is taken in by the IOC over a four-year period. That’s a lot of loose cash floating around.