The 2014 Winter Olympics, which are being held in Sochi, Russia, will run from February 7 to 23, and they are already beset with controversy. With just a few months to go before the games begin, some critics are calling it one of the most crooked projects in the country’s history and suggesting that Sochi 2014 will be the most corrupt Olympic Games ever.
Overseeing the event is none other than the country’s President, Vladimir Putin, whose regular visits cause mayhem for residents as roads are closed to ensure his safety and ease of access to the Olympic sites. In a statement in early 2013, Putin stated to private investors that his main concerns were that construction costs do not get out of control, and no money gets stolen. However, many people believed this to be just rhetoric as, in fact, both were already happening.
To hold the games, Sochi needed a number of new building projects, including and Olympic stadium, three Olympic villages, a ski jump, several hockey arenas and alpine facilities, and a cross-country venue.
In February 2013, Human Rights Watch reported that immigrant workers were brought into the country to work on the project that often exploited them, overworked them, and cheated them out of their wages.
Missing Billions from the 2014 Olympics
However, the corruption runs much deeper than this. At the end of May 2013, newspapers all over the world reported that officials and businessmen involved in the preparation of the 2014 Olympics had stolen billions of dollars, according to a report released by the former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Boris Nemtsov.
By comparing the estimated costs of $12 billion that was announced in 2007 to the $51 billion the games have actually cost so far, Nemtsov believes that corrupt politicians and businessmen have pocketed roughly $30 billion. While costs of such events often overrun the budget considerably, this is by far the most expensive Olympics ever. To put it in context, the 2012 London Summer Games only cost $14.3 billion.
Alexander Zhukov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee, refused to comment extensively without further analysis of the figures, but stated that he was confident that everything was in order and that the budget overruns are a result of the extra infrastructure required at some of the new sites.
The Exaggerated Cost of Rebuilding the Infrastructure
It is true that the city’s infrastructure needed extensive works, and large amounts of money have been put into building and repairing roads, bridges, hotels, public transport facilities, and the underlying power grid. But it is also true that all this work has offered plenty of opportunity for fraud, considering that the construction industry is one of the most corrupt in the country.
One of the most expensive and controversial infrastructure projects of the Olympic Games has been a road that stretches 45 km between the neighborhood of Adler to the mountain cluster in Krasnaya Polyana. It cost a staggering 26 billion rubles, and, according to Nemtsov, “You could have paved this road with 5m tons of gold or black caviar and the price would have been the same.”
Jean-Claude Killy, head of the International Olympic Committee’s coordination commission for the 2014 Olympics, was not surprised by these claims. In fact, he stated that it was nothing new:
“I don’t recall an Olympics without corruption…. It’s not an excuse, obviously, and I’m very sorry about it, but there might be corruption in this country, there was corruption before. I hope we find ways around that.”
These budget concerns were raised earlier by the state auditors at the country’s audit chamber, who have already advised that some of the irregularities be looked into. A number of charges have been filed by Russian officials against managers of the main contractor handling the Olympic Games, Olympstroi, and their subcontractors. Nothing has gone as far as a trial to date, and it seems those guilty of corruption are likely to get away with it.