Until Brazil recently decided to show the world how much money could be wasted by putting on not one but two international sporting events pretty much concurrently, the Olympics has traditionally been the single most ostentatious and expensive act of self glorification that any nation could wish to go broke over.
The Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, now just weeks away, may well prove to the be the undisputed champion when it comes to shelling out the kopeks for an Olympiad.
Most of the time, the soaring expenses of any Olympic Games are commonly blamed on inaccurate cost estimates, unforeseen delays and corruption, all of which are on display at Sochi, but which won’t be the critical factors in the ballooning costs of apparently President-for-Life Putin’s showpiece event.
Here then are top 10 reasons Sochi may be the most expensive Olympic Games in history:
Recent acts of terrorism in Volgograd, Russia have heightened concerns about ongoing ethnic violence that has plagued President Putin’s various administrations for years, and has many athletes, dignitaries and spectators extremely nervous in the weeks leading up to the opening ceremonies.
Russia has never been very transparent about any elements of their security apparatus, which extends to their plans for Olympic security measures, so it’s difficult to get any exact figures on what employing tens of thousands of police and armed forces personnel, as well as countless KGB and other intelligence services throughout the dozens of Olympic venues is actually costing.
However, thanks to good old-fashioned extrapolation, we’re giving it a damn good guess.
When Russia won the games in 2007, Perma-President Putin personally estimated the cost of staging their Games at just over $12 billion, a significant increase from the $8.7 billion Canada forked out for the Vancouver Games of 2010. The most recent estimates of the cost of the Sochi Games is now over $50 billion however, with at least $10 billion of that slated for security alone, which would not only have paid for the Vancouver Olympiad, but would still have had enough left over for Dennis Rodman’s rehab.
9. Climate Change
As of 7:25 am this morning, the temperature in Sochi, Russia was 48 degrees Fahrenheit, with a light rain forecast to last all day.
In fact, though the sleepy little town on the coast of the Black Sea is experiencing slightly higher than normal temperatures, it’s nowhere near the record high of 63 F the mercury hit last February, a headache which has given Olympic organizers all they can handle to avoid a weather washout.
Sochi has been stockpiling snow for months and has all the latest snow-making equipment ready to roll for the skiing events, the most vulnerable for any lack of the white stuff, none of which comes cheap, and thanks to the inevitability of Climate Change, this sort of thing will likely become more common, necessary and expensive for upcoming Winter Olympics.
The estimated $8.7 billion cost of the new railroad from Adler to Krasnaya, Polyana, the site of the snowboard and alpine ski events, is as much as the price tag for the entire Vancouver Games. The majority of the Sochi expenditures are closely guarded secrets, though Russians have grown weary of soaring cost overruns linked to a close Putin associate who has managed to secure hundreds of domestic infrastructure projects tied to the Games.
As a result, it’s estimated that less than 25% of the more than $50 billion in Olympic costs have gone to new venues or stadiums, as the majority of expenses are officially listed as ‘regional development,’ such as this penny-pinching railroad project.
7. International Team Safety
There is no question tensions are high among international Olympic teams traveling to Russia, and that in response to two explosions in Volgograd which killed 34 people in December, internal security has been ramped up by Putin. What isn’t clear however, and what few Olympic officials from any other nation are saying, is what their own increased security measures are costing or what an additional burden it is to their Olympic teams.
American lawmakers have recently expressed concerns about President Putin’s refusal to work more extensively with international intelligence services on Olympic security, but have been rebuffed in their calls for more foreign participation, as Russia insists they can keep the Games safe.
Despite those assurances however, it was reported this weekend that the United States has created their own strategic emergency evacuation plan for their athletes, in light of growing American concerns about Olympic security, and at what can only be surmised to be at considerable expense.
It’s a good bet that any nation that can afford it will be significantly increasing their own security measures to protect their athletes, because the larger the delegation, the more expensive it now is to send them to Sochi and bring them back safely, with or without any undesirable incident.
6. Ominous Terrorist Threats
With just over two weeks before the start of the Games, a chilling video was released last weekend showing two men claiming to represent a Chechen independence group, which claimed responsibility for the bombings in Volgograd last December, and vowing to carry out more attacks, specifically on Olympic targets.
Needless to say, this has not had a positive impact on potential tourism in Sochi, which could wind up costing the Russians untold millions in lost airline, hotel and Olympic revenues, and is just part of a growing international unease about how secure these Games really are.
Despite repeated assertions by Russian Olympic officials that venues will be at full capacity, there are still hundreds of thousands of unsold seats, including for both the opening and closing ceremonies, which simply has to be hurting financially as the costs for Sochi continue to rise.
5. Putin’s Anti-Gay Policies
This may seem an unusual choice, but the fact is that President Shirtless could not have chosen a worse time or stage to flaunt his 16th century-style pogrom on the GLBT communities in Russia.
Not only has his Draconian, anti-Gay witch hunt embarrassingly coincided and conflicted with an international recognition of and overwhelming outpouring of support for GLBT athletes, but by insisting as recently as this weekend that ‘…I respect Gay people..,’ as long as they ‘…stay away from the children…’ Grand Master Putin has effectively signaled that Russia is embracing systemic bigotry in a manner not seen since Ivan the Terrible.
All of which is not only costing Russia a fortune in bad PR, but literally could not cement the stereotype of a hardcore, totalitarian state more effortlessly, and that means yet another good reason for people to avoid Sochi, and even more lost rubles.
Seriously; if you’re a travel agent, how are you selling these Games as a desired tourist destination? And if you’re an IOC banker, how are you not jumping out of a building right now?
4. Stress and Athletic Performance
It’s impossible to gauge how much the security factor is playing on the nerves of the most important individuals at the Games, the athletes; though if you had to guess, ‘greatly’ might come to mind.
It’s not enough that most of these young men and women have dedicated the majority of their lives to countless hours of training and discipline to reach this stage in their careers, the very pinnacle of international competition, but they now have to do so under the shadow of global terrorism.
This will be the first Olympiad in history that has been specifically targeted by a terrorist threat before the opening ceremonies, which simply cannot be good for the psyches of the athletes who already have enough to be concerned about.
Poor or sub-par performances may well become commonplace, and that will definitely have an impact on television ratings, advertising dollars and Lenin knows how many endorsement deals, or lack thereof.
3. More Security
Yah; it’s worth a second mention.
With over 40,000 armed forces, police personnel and Ivan Drago only knows how many intelligence and KGB agents employed in and around all Olympic sites and venues, it’s obvious that the single most expensive component to the Sochi Games will be the unprecedented security President Putin has guaranteed for this enormous event, with some estimates climbing to between $10 and $15 billion.
The question becomes, will this volume of expenditure for Olympic security become the norm, or is Sochi just an aberration based on a unique set of circumstances that won’t plague other Games?
The safe money is sadly on the former.
2. Putin’s Ego
You might initially laugh at this offering, until you’re reminded that this petite, bare-chested beast has ruled Russia with an iron fist since 1999, personally rewriting the Constitution to solidify his power, and is the first Russian leader since the fall of the U.S.S.R. to boldly go where other dictators-for-life have gone before.
After winning the bid for the Games by vowing to spend more than anyone else, after ignoring the mounting scandals over ballooning costs and flagrant corruption that has marred construction, after facing terrorist attacks and the threat of additional violence with a guarantee of safety by doing ‘…whatever it takes..,’ Vladimir Putin could easily be said to be carrying the Sochi Olympics on his compact, brawny shoulders.
And why not? Having risen through the ranks of the KGB and the post-Soviet power struggle, Putin has emerged as a Tyrant For Our Times, a no-nonsense Russian leader of old; a shirtless Cossack who para-glides while kickboxing bears and defusing nuclear warheads.
Putin has staked a considerable amount of his macho, political reputation on what he has promised to be a very successful Olympiad, but the jury is out on whether or not his traditional bravado and bluster will be enough for him to deliver.
1. Fear and Uncertainty
And finally we come to the real question on everyone’s mind; what will happen in Sochi?
This sense of unease, foreboding and wariness that is enveloping the run up to the opening ceremonies cannot be understated, as this is the first Olympiad in history that has been targeted for attack before it even began.
Ultimately, that remains the great unknown of these Games; will this increasing atmosphere of fear and uncertainty simply keep people away, or will the Olympic spirit triumph over political strife and discord and bring people together through the glory of sport?
One thing is likely however; at over $50 billion and rising, Sochi may just break the bank for any future host nations to come.
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