As the world prepares for the 2014 Winter Olympics, the Sochi games hide a dark reality. Much effort is being undertaken by the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin to paint Sochi (and Russia as a whole) as clean and prosperous. Putin has declared publicly that the Sochi games will go forward without incident, despite the looming threat of terrorism. The venues for the games are shown as clean, modern and pristine. Yet when the cameras turn away from these finely produced facilities, decaying apartment complexes and neglected roads can be seen. While the nations of the world prepare to gather and set aside their differences in a show of sportsmanship and cooperation, the dark side of Sochi is hidden from view.
Among these dark secrets are cost overruns, missed construction deadlines and corrupt government contracts siphoning funds from projects. Due in part to these factors, the Sochi games have already become the most expensive Olympic games ever held. It is currently estimated that the total cost of Sochi will surpass $51 billion. The Beijing games of 2008 had previously been the most expensive, at $40 billion. As these expenses continue to mount, the average Russian, especially those living in and around Sochi itself, is beginning to question the benefit of Russia hosting these games. Indeed, above and beyond the monumental cost, this dark side of Sochi includes an unseen human cost as well.
Approximately 95,000 workers have been involved in the various Sochi building projects. Many of these workers have reported problems in being paid for their services, and if they complain about either the amount or the promptness of their pay, they are often terminated and replaced. Complaints have also been made that native Russians have lost jobs in favor of foreign workers brought into Sochi for cheap labor. In a part of the world already stressed by racial tension, such actions only serve to inflame those tensions further.
The official venues built and renovated to host the Sochi games are the very image of modern and functional facilities, but each pristine stadium and arena hides an array of decaying apartment complexes, crumbling infrastructure and a standard of living for far below what is implied for Sochi’s citizens. The area surrounding the city has fared little better, as neighboring villages have been used as a dumping ground for waste materials associated with the Sochi construction. In addition, there are accusations of excessive damage to the environment as forested areas are cleared for construction. When looking at these carefully hidden factors, the Sochi Olympics hide a dark reality.
The cost of human life associated with the Sochi games is also telling. Poor safety conditions for workers have led to multiple deaths and injuries resulting from falling from scaffolds, tumbling off rooftops, and various other industrial and construction-related accidents. Far from Sochi itself, recent suicide bombings have claimed the lives of 16 people at a train station at Volgograd, a situation that most terrorism experts connect to the upcoming Sochi games. It was the second such bombing in the area, bringing the total number of casualties to over 30.
Despite all these costs, Putin is determined to use Sochi as a showcase for a rejuvenated Russia. Seeking to reclaim the status Russia enjoyed when it was called the Soviet Union, a successful Sochi games could go a long way toward “rehabilitating” Russia on the world stage. The image the president intends for the public to see of Sochi will be one of clean streets, modern buildings and bright stadiums. But behind the facade, the Sochi Olympics hide a dark reality.
By Christopher V. Spencer