At the Krasnaya Polyna train station in Sochi, Russia, a banner reads ‘Sochi is preparing for Olympic records!’ The budget has already broken a couple: $51 billion was lavished on the upcoming Russian Winter Olympics, a sum emblematic of the extravagance and corruption entrenched in the Russian regime.
Last year, the Winter Olympic Games in Canada cost approximately $8.9 billion. Granted that they did not have to deal with threats of terrorism, but an increase in security does not justify quintupling the cost. To be fair, the Winter Olympics have always been more low-key than their summer counterparts. The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing were the most expensive at the time, racking up $40 billion. Each of the 302 sporting events received about $132 million on average. This year, in Sochi, an overwhelming $520 million funds each of the 98 events.
The profligacy is not accidental. “It is not about the sport; it is about Putin’s project to raise Russia’s image in the eyes of the world,” said former deputy minister and current critic of the government, Boris Nemtsov. This would also explain the choice of location – Sochi is a popular summer resort with a somewhat sub-tropical climate that Putin refers to as ‘the Russian reviera’. Not an optimal venue for hosting the Winter Olympics, but making the impossible possible has always been part of Putin’s image. In order to win the bid, he even flew to Guatemala and delivered a rare speech in English, incorporating touches of French. The man has style.
As per form, the Kremlin claims that the $51 billion bill is misleading – the actual games cost a mere $10 billion, and the rest is dedicated to security and regional development, which the government claims would have been carried out regardless. However, it strains the imagination to believe that the state would spend $8.6 billion on an 18-mile mountain road linking Sochi with winter sights. When Putin was asked about the discrepancy between his bid and the actual cost, he replied that it was ‘an honest mistake made by investors’.
Although the price of hosting the Olympics is truly rising, $20-30 billion cannot possibly be an ‘honest mistake’. The weighty investment in new building sites for the Games is likely a result of close connections between the government and the construction companies, compounded by the pervasive presence of cronyism. There are many cases that bring this to light: firstly, the curling stadium was built by a company owned by the father of the President of the Russian Curling Federation. Moreover, a key beneficiary of the lucrative Olympic contracts was Arkady Rotenberg, a close friend of Putin’s. He owns nearly 39% of a company building most of the highways in the area – one of which cost that unbelievable $8.6 million.
The 17-day event will be launched on 7 February, and so far no one seems to be asking too many questions. What this tells us is not that Russia is getting closer to a ‘modern, transparent, efficient and successful’ state, but rather that Putin has such a stronghold on the government, the media, and the people that few dare criticize. Russia is still plagued with corruption, cronyism and shady business deals, and the preparation for the Sochi Winter Olympics have only made them more manifest.