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article imageOp-Ed: How much is Russia going to spend on a gold medal?

By Karen Graham     Nov 13, 2013 in Sports
Sochi - With three months remaining until the start of the Sochi Winter Olympics, allegations of abuse, rampant corruption and embezzlement are being leveled by opposition leaders against Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.
If Russian athletes fail to take home a single gold medal during February's Winter Olympics in Sochi, at least Russia will walk away with the gold for the most expensive Olympic Games in the history of the Winter Olympics, and that includes all 21 games.
Vladimir Putin originally told the IOC in 2007 the estimated cost of putting on the Winter Games would cost $12 billion. That was a far cry from the estimated cost so far, of over $50 billion. As a comparison, the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens cost $15 billion. The cost of the Russian games is equal to the GNP of Burma, and there is little hope of recouping any of the money.
According to Robert Barney, founding director of the International Center for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, there has been no Olympic games that have ever come out in the black. Barney says the reason behind this is that government and taxpayer money used for subsidizing the games isn't counted. This means that no games have ever made money.
Big promises and huge efforts
There is a great deal of effort put into getting the games, and the promises made are often grandiose. But once the politicians succeed in their efforts, they are soon gone, just as the games will be gone, and the state is left with the problem of dealing with cost overrides, empty stadiums and other venues, in need of upkeep and unused. The good feelings, patriotism and short-lived prosperity the games bring to a city are soon gone.
There was a huge effort on Putin's part to sell the idea of having the Winter Olympics, and in the warmest place in all of Russia. Sochi's climate is sub-tropical, and some people say its location on the Black Sea is swampy in the best of times. It is considered a summer resort.
The efforts of the Russian government to keep athletes safe from the threat of terrorism is taking a big bite out of the budget for the games too. Add to that the apparent added cost of keeping journalists from using social media during the games, and we're talking about a large sum of money.
Allegations of fraud and corruption
With the astronomical amount of money being spent on the Winter Olympics, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, and Solidarity Activist, Leonid Martynyuk issued a report, originally published on May 30, 2013, but recently obtained by NBC News, detailing their allegations of abuse, corruption, cronyism, non-professionalism and all around irresponsibility against Vladimir Putin and the government in their handling of the Winter Olympics.
In their report, Nemtsov and Martynyuk say they, as well as others were elated at Russia getting to host the Winter Olympics, thinking everything would take place in the mountains near Sochi, and not in the swamp by the Black Sea. They were taken by surprise when authorities said there was not enough space in the mountains to build the opening ceremonies stadium or other venues.
The men also claim that when Putin went to Guatemala in 2007 to seal the deal with the IOC, all the committee was told was that Russia would spend $12 billion to put on the games, and that they would be "green" and safe. It is doubtful the IOC knew about the logistics of where the facilities would eventually be built.
As far as abuse and corruption involving the games, the report accuses Putin and high level cronies of kickbacks to construction companies, using government funds from the state budget and loans from state banks. Cost overruns on the different venues are detailed, along with the amounts of the amounts of the monies "lost."
More detailed risks are enumerated, including the lack of enough electrical power and the altering of the terrain resulting in the inadvertent creation of a warm-wind tunnel up the mountain gorge to the ski area. This was caused by deforestation in preparing a road to the ski venue.
The biggest issue is the apparent lack of transparency in the Russian government. That there is corruption, and on a large scale, is readily apparent, based on past stories coming out of Sochi. It is also apparent that no amount of money will ensure that everything will run like a well oiled clock, but let's hope it does.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Sochi, Most expensive, Graft and corruption, Government spending, Vladimir putin
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