Russia Officials Try To Quell Concerns Over Corruption As Sochi Games Kick Off
Russia Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak during a news conference at the Main Press Center in the Olympic Park Thursday "dismissed all allegations of corruption, pointing that 'acts of corruption, acts of theft must be proved,'" according to Ivan Nechepurenko of the MOSCOW TIMES. Kozak said, "Our country in the shortest period, has fulfilled all the pledges we have made in the Sochi 2014 Olympic bid." He reiterated that the government's official line is that the state budget "has only spent" $3B on the Games, "with 'a bit more than $4 billion invested by private investors.'" Kozak: "This is something we are proud of." Nechepurenko notes those figures contradict the widely reported $51B cost for hosting the Games. Kozak's remarks were supported by Russia Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov, who reaffirmed that Sochi "cost as much as" the '10 Vancouver Games. The Russian government "has created a special body that will oversee the post-Olympic development of Sochi, filling the newly built venues with events" (MOSCOW TIMES, 2/7).
PEEPING TOMAŽ? The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Sonne, White & Robinson note Kozak on Thursday "seemed to reflect the view held among many Russian officials that some Western visitors are deliberately trying to sabotage Sochi's big debut out of bias against Russia." He said, "We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day." Sonne, White & Robinson report at that point, an aide "pulled a reporter away before Mr. Kozak could be questioned further on surveillance in hotel rooms." A Kozak spokesperson later on Thursday said that there is "absolutely no surveillance in hotel rooms or bathrooms occupied by guests." The spokesperson added that there was "surveillance on premises during construction and cleaning of Sochi's venues and hotels and that is likely what Mr. Kozak was referencing" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/7). In N.Y., Bondy & O'Connor write Kozak's admission that some surveillance had occurred "was the latest misstep" in Russia’s hosting of the Games. The Games "appear to have locked up the gold medal for blunders -- even before" Friday’s Opening Ceremony (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/7).
SCRUTINIZING SOCHI: In Minneapolis, Chip Scoggins writes Sochi’s image has "taken a beating this week." While the bar may not have been "set high in terms of expectations," Russia President Vladimir Putin’s $51B "ego trip managed to erode what little confidence remained once visitors (and journalists) started to arrive" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/7). In Boston, John Powers writes no Olympics since the '80 Moscow Games -- the only other time the event was held in Russia -- have been "as loudly condemned by critics" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/7). But the FINANCIAL TIMES' Courtney Weaver writes the problems reported at Sochi so far "appear to be largely limited to hotels for the media: no athletes have reported problems with their facilities" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 2/7). FS1's Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole are broadcasting from Sochi during the Olympics, and O'Toole said, "To clear a few misconceptions, first off there are toilets in our rooms, the water works and there are no dogs in our rooms." Onrait added, "I'm kind of sad about that part. I wanted a puppy in my room" ("Fox Sports Live," FS1, 2/7).
BETTER THAN THE INITIAL REPORTS? In Pittsburgh, Dejan Kovacevic writes the Sochi Games "have been, out of my four Olympics covered, by far the best organized to this point," and Sochi is "putting Vancouver to shame." The facilities "are new, clean and typically spectacular in design and functionality." From the "tight ring of venues in Olympic Park to a logical flow to all movement, it's eminently evident that real thought has been applied." Transportation also is "so much better than any recent Olympics that it's no contest" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 2/7). SPORTS ON EARTH's Will Leitch wrote it is "really not that horrible" in Sochi. The city is not 100% ready, but it is "not a cesspool either" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 2/6).
FRESH SECURITY WORRIES: In DC, Liz Clarke reports USOC CEO Scott Blackmun on Thursday "voiced full confidence that Russia was doing everything possible to safeguard the Games and reiterated that the safety of U.S. athletes was the USOC’s primary concern." He said, "Anytime you have an event of this scope and scale there are security threats, there are terrorism threats. What makes this one a little bit different and, frankly, a little bit concerning when you think about it is that someone has surfaced and made an express threat. ... A few months ago, before Volgograd, we were really concerned about disruptions and the nature of the security -- that there would be long lines and it could be a hassle getting to the venues. Then Volgograd happened, and it kind of flipped. People became very tolerant of those kinds of inconveniences and discomfort" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/6).