Was Sochi a Mistake?
Published: Friday, February 14, 2014
Updated: Monday, February 17, 2014 15:02
I love the Olympics. There’s something powerful about tuning into the Opening Ceremonies and watching while half the world away your countrymen get emotional about how far they have come. And then there’s that awesome feeling you get when you see athletes representing the US kill it in their respective sport- watching them celebrate becomes so much more personal. So why is it, exactly, that the Olympic Committee chose to hold such a universally important sporting event in a country that can’t really seem to hold it together?
A little background to the Games location picking: the intention of awarding the Games to a certain location is to bolster its economy, while each location must also prove that it can support the traffic and cost of hosting. So here is where my first concern comes from pre-Olympics: Sochi was a small city whose economy centered around the fishing industry, home to about 350,000 people. In order to make way for the Olympics, and to make sure that Sochi could host all the events necessary, Russia spent upwards of 7 years building all-new arenas, hotels, and Olympic village at a price tag of around $50 billion. Not only is this more expensive than the past 13 Olympics combined, but much of the construction isn’t finished. Many hotels were not ready for athletes or members of the press, and complaints about actual elements of competition tracks are being reported; halfpipe snowboarders continue to criticize the construction of the halfpipe, citing it to be too dangerous and forcing organizers to make adjustments after dozens of falls.
Criticizing Russia for spending money alone would be out of line- hosting the Olympic Games, by definition, is costly; Beijing, as the next most expensive Olympic location, reportedly spent $15 billion, though some will claim this is a gross underestimation. What helps to balance these costs is the overall profit made from hosting the Olympics- coming in from spectators, athletes, press, and continued profit from visitors or future events once the Games have finished. The intent behind the awarding of the Games to a particular location is the idea that this location will be able to incorporate the construction into any existing infrastructure and continue to use it- and here is where my criticism lies. How on earth will Sochi be able to use any of the construction that $50 billion bought them?
Sochi is not, in any sense of the word, a vacation spot. Prior to its hosting of the Games, I had never even been aware of its existence. The people of Sochi have little use for the Olympic village or the many arenas constructed for the Games. Think back to previous locations that did a great job incorporating the buildings into the existing city: Atlanta’s Olympic buildings are still used today by colleges like Georgia Tech, and Barcelona’s arenas continue to be used for sporting events like this past summer’s X Games. What, exactly, is the potential for reusing Sochi Olympic infrastructure in the future? How could this location possibly continue to bring in revenue after the weeks of the Games have passed and the athletes have all gone home?
In addition to this come reports of terrorist attack near Sochi, turmoil over stringent anti-gay laws and their enforcement (with many world leaders refusing to attend), and reports that migrant workers from countries other than Russia made up the bulk of the workforce- putting money not into the Russian economy but into the economies of the countries around Russia. It’s nearly impossible to host the Olympic Games without something going wrong, be it delayed construction, budget oversights or another setback among the hundreds possible. However, it seems to me that the controversies surrounding the current location have grown into a monster the IOC has never seen before. The choice was made for Russia to host years ago, but even then was it a wise one? I, for one, am intrigued to see how the rest of the Games play out and if Putin can manage to turn them around.