Sochi, Rio In The Olympics Spotlight As Both Face Issues
The ’14 Sochi Games are now on the clock, and there is a “massive project underway to build a resort city on the Black Sea almost from scratch and with it the center of the universe for sports played on ice and snow,” according to Christine Brennan of USA TODAY. SOCOG President & CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko said, "We are building an Olympic structure in the middle of nowhere. It's like a painter with a blank canvas painting a masterpiece. We are building a new city with more than 100,000 hotel beds.” Chernyshenko said that organizers are “dealing with economic conditions as best as they can.” He said, "Our deadlines for our commitments are strong. We did not panic. The companies we are working with have the confidence that the country is backing them. Everything is coming along fine." Brennan notes construction is “almost complete,” and officials have indicated that “all of the ‘mountain cluster’ venues held pre-Olympic test events during the last winter sports season.” All the other venues -- the "coastal cluster" -- will be “tested by the end of 2012.” The only venue to be completed in ‘13 is “the stadium that will host the opening and closing ceremonies” (USA TODAY, 8/13). The AP’s Laura Mills noted “every competition venue has had to be built from scratch,” and the cost “is staggering.” Russia President Vladimir Putin said that $30B “will be spent developing the region, including the cost of the games.” Although many have “complained that the central stadium and hotels are behind schedule,” IOC officials “overall have praised Russia’s ability to meet the challenges.” But despite the “breakneck pace of construction, critics question whether the city can build an entire Olympic complex and the infrastructure it requires from scratch without doing too much harm” (AP, 8/10). SI.com’s S.L. Price noted every "variation of Russian pride, prejudice, joy and fear promises to be on loud display for the next 18 months, and the Games' short vacation from political and cultural tension figures to be over.” Putin's “hardline rule -- not to mention his bare-chested support of the Sochi Games -- is sure to have Olympic critics back on high alert” (SI.com, 8/12).
TAKING THE PROJECT UNDER HIS WING: Chernyshenko said Putin “considers this project his baby.” The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Sonne & Boudreaux wrote, “So close is Putin’s involvement that shortly after London’s opening ceremony, he told a Russian news agency that he’s familiar with the preliminary plan for Sochi’s Opening Show and hopes the event will be ‘no less beautiful.’” Still, there are many challenges for Sochi, including a “weakened Russian Olympic team that could embarrass the country at home, and the threat of terrorist attacks that have rocked Russia for over a decade.” The budget for the Sochi Games “is massive, some $18B.” Chernyshenko said that the organizing committee “will make a profit.” Security is “perhaps the most serious test,” as Sochi is “a few hundred miles from Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria and North Ossetia, republics in southern Russia’s Caucasus region that have faced violence for years.” Chernyshenko said that Russian security forces “are planning to reinforce natural protections provided by the mountains and sea” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/13). NBC News' Jim Maceda said, No one believes that Sochi won’t be ready to offer the world a knockout Winter Games. As one Olympic official put it, ‘It’s a no-fail mission.’ But there are real concerns: Sochi is just 300 miles from Chechnya and its unstable pockets of Islamist militants” (“Nightly News,” NBC, 8/12). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Richard Boudreaux noted Russia's leaders “are counting on the '14 Winter Games to boost national pride and international prestige.” But the “multi-billion-dollar effort is straining the host city's resources, environment and nerves.” Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov acknowledged the preparations have caused "some dissatisfaction." But he added, "If you come to the park in Sochi and see how the Olympic venues look -- how the infrastructure looks, the trains, new roads, bridges -- you'll say that these games are a big plus for Sochi" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/13).
RINGS AROUND RIO: The AP’s Janie McCauley wrote London’s show “will prove a tough act to follow,” but the ’16 Rio de Janiero Games “will be looking to dazzle the world with its beaches and breathtaking views while dealing with the daunting challenge of getting a city ready for the world's most sweeping sports event” (AP, 8/13). REUTERS’ John Mehaffey wrote if Rio “delivers, the Games could then conceivably go to Africa, the final continent for the Olympic movement.” IOC Marketing Commission Chair Gerhard Heiberg said, "Rio is an experiment. It is new. They have never had such a big event in the whole of South America. They have to do a lot on the infrastructure side.” He added, "Hopefully it will go well, we think it will go well. If that is successful, I think the opening for going to Africa will be even bigger because you prove that in a developing nation it is possible. Why not 2024?" (REUTERS, 8/13). In Auckland, Jonathan Watts noted Brazil has budgeted £13B ($25B) for public transport, construction and urban renewal projects -- "half as much again as London spent on its Games, but less than half the amount invested by Beijing." The Games will be set against a backdrop of golden beaches, lushly forested hills and lagoons lined with palm trees and "has the potential to be among the most visually stunning ever staged" (NEW ZEALAND HERALD, 8/13). REUTERS' Brenda Goh noted '16 Summer Olympics host, Rio de Janeiro, took the "host baton from London in a star-studded Closing Ceremony on Sunday." Rio and 2022 World Cup host Qatar are "taking notes from" London, which held the most "temporary" Olympic Games in history. Architecture firm Populous, which designed the London Olympic stadium, Dir Christopher Lee said, "London is being used as a blueprint, and we're working with a number of Olympic and World Cup bidding cities or host cities to take a similar approach" (REUTERS, 8/13). In London, Lucy Jordan wrote "the anticipation reached a new pitch" Sunday night. The success of the London Games "has added a dose of anxiety into the mix." But overall, "the mood is one of enthusiasm." Brazil is "determined to showcase itself as a country moving from the developing to the developed world" (INDEPENDENT, 8/13).
FUTURE BIDS: In Toronto, Lesley Ciarula Taylor reported City Council member James Pasternak's “idea for the first binational Olympic Games in Toronto and Buffalo is gaining steam.” Pasternak “floated the idea in an interview about how Toronto could possibly afford to host an Olympics when the current London Games are costing $15 billion.” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown on Friday said, “With the closeness of our two nations, it potentially raises the opportunity.” But Taylor wrote, “Flattered as he is, Brown laughed long and hard at the idea of splitting the cost of the '24 Games with Toronto.” Brown: “Believe me, if I had $7.5 billion to spend, I would spend it all in Buffalo and not spend it to bring an Olympics” (TORONTO STAR, 8/11). In Denver, John Meyer reported the USOC is “studying whether to bid for the '24 Summer Games or the '26 Winter Games.” A report is “due to the USOC board in December.” Denver Sports Dir Sue Baldwin said, "Our interest in pursuing a Winter Olympic bid remains high, and we will re-evaluate after the USOC finishes their process at the end of the year" (DENVER POST, 8/13).