Staunton, December 27 – A year ago, many predicted that the Sochi Olympiad, despite its enormous expense and numerous problems, would be the high point of Russia’s year in 2014, a demonstration of Russia’s recovery from the problems of the past two decades and a dramatic way of signaling its return to full membership in the international community.
Russian aggression in Ukraine rapidly overshadowed Sochi as an event and undermined whatever message Vladimir Putin hoped to send with the games. But the Winter Olympiad continues to cast a shadow over Moscow, something plans for Sochi to be a venue for 2018 World Cup are only darkening.
That is because all the problems that the run-up to the Sochi Games are once again going to be the subject of attention: massive Russian government overspending and corruption, environmental destruction, and the holding of a competition on the site of the 1864 genocide of the Circassians are all going to be the focus of international attention once again.
Even Russians who want to put a positive spin on the Sochi Games have had to admit that it is impossible to ignore the problems. In a commentary for RBK.ru, Valery Igumenov begins by noting that according to legend, Hercules created the first Olympics right after cleaning out the Augean stables, implying that there might be a link between the two (top.rbc.ru/business/26/12/2014/549c55699a7947590aae5340#xtor=AL-[internal_traffic]--[rbc.ru]-[details_main]-[item_8]).
The Sochi Olympiad, the commentator continues, was also “a [Herculean] labor achieved in customary Russian style.” Moscow had to replace the person in charge four times, it ran behind schedule, and it was dramatically over-budget with more than 50 billion US dollars being spent, the most ever on any Olympic competition in history.
How much of that was stolen and how much “simply wasted,” Igumenov says, “no one can say.” A large part of the money was from the government and government firms, but another part was from private firms who were “offered a proposal [to make a contribution] that they could not refuse.”
In all these ways, he says, “the Olympiad did not clarify or show anything which we didn’t already know about Russia. In Russia, as before, everything is bad with planning, organization, administration, effectiveness and corruption. In Russia, as before, everything is good” in terms of hospitality “and the ability to solve difficult tasks” in a short time.
At least, he points out, “the Olympics took place without a single serious incident,” and for a time at least, they attracted international attention and good will toward Russia and Russians. But that ended also “in the Russian style: everything was done to win a victory and then an enormous part of the results of this victory were squandered.”
Igumenov’s article is a typical end of the year wrap-up, but the problems of Sochi aren’t disappearing. On the one hand, Moscow is already reporting that it faces a serious deficit in the budget for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, part of the competition for which is scheduled to take place in the Olympic city (themoscowtimes.com/article/513915.html).
On the other, two other issues from the Sochi Games continue to fester: First, environmental activists around the world are still furious that Yevgeny Vitishko, one of their number, still languishes in a Russian prison for exposing the ways in which senior Russian officials ran roughshod over environmental laws in the run-up to Sochi.
And second, Circassians activists both in their North Caucasus homeland and around the world are making plans to renew their protest about the holding of another athletic competition on the site where their ancestors were killed or expelled by Russian forces a century and a half ago.
As in advance of the Sochi Olympiad, their slogans in advance of what Moscow hopes will be another international blockbuster include “Free Circassia Now!” “Recognize the Circassian Genocide!” and “Stop the World Cup in Sochi!”