Russian President Vladimir Putin has fired Akhmed Bilalov, a senior official on the Russian Olympic Committee, "because of delays in construction work for the 2014 Winter Games," which begin in one year, according to Ilya Arkhipov of BLOOMBERG. Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak said that Bilalov will be dismissed as an Olympic committee VP and head of North Caucasus Resorts, which is developing ski areas in the region, "after Putin criticized him for rising costs and failing to build a ski jump complex on time." Kozak: "When obligations aren’t met, it’s not just Mr. Bilalov, a citizen of Russia, who fails to fulfill them, it’s the entire Russian Federation. People who can't meet their responsibilities on such a scale can't head the Olympic movement in our country." Putin "criticized an almost sevenfold increase in costs" to 8B rubles ($266M) and a delay on the project by Bilalov's Krasnaya Polyana of more than two years (BLOOMBERG, 2/7). REUTERS' Alexei Anishchuk wrote Bilalov's humiliation stamped Putin's authority over the Sochi Games "and underlined the importance he attaches to a global event he hopes will show how far Russia has come" since the Soviet Union's collapse in '91. In a "vintage performance, reminiscent of an all-powerful tsar sweeping through town in imperial times, Putin became angry when he heard of the rising costs and construction delays at the ski-jump complex" in which Bilalov was involved. Putin, "unsmiling and sarcastic," scolded Bilalov "in front of television cameras at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Wednesday, then sacked him." Putin: "How is it possible that the vice president of the Olympic committee is delaying development?" He added, "Well done. You are really working well" (REUTERS, 2/7). In London, Roger Boyes wrote Putin "was unhappy too about reports of corruption driving up costs." Putin said, "The most important thing is that nobody pilfers, so that there won't be unjustifiable price rises." The sacking "is seen by some commentators as merely a step to encourage the others rather than a token of the imminent collapse" of Sochi 2014. All construction work, not just the ski jump, must be completed by July 15, "and heads will roll if deadlines are not met." The most "politically dangerous element in the lead-up to the Games is uncontrolled corruption." Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader who was born in Sochi, said that some £30B ($47.1B) "has been pocketed by corrupt businessmen and officials" (LONDON TIMES, 2/7).
FULL SPECTRUM TICKET SALE: R-SPORT reported ticket sales for Sochi 2014 began on Thursday. The Organizing Committee stated that tickets for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as well as for 15 sports competitions, "are available to Russian citizens and foreigners who are legal residents" on the event's official website at www.sochi2014.com. Prices begin at 500 rubles ($17) and escalate to 50,000 rubles ($1,700) (R-SPORT, 2/7). The AFP reported 42% of the tickets will cost less than 6,000 rubles ($200). Organizing Committee Chair Dmitry Chernyshenko said, "The Olympic Games will be affordable." The website has a limit of four tickets per person "for the most popular events": the Opening Ceremony, hockey and figure skating (AFP, 2/7). R-SPORT reported "a rush for tickets" for the Sochi 2014 men's hockey final "made them unavailable within half an hour of going on sale." Organizers said that although tickets became unavailable quickly, it "did not necessarily mean a sellout" but "merely that customers had put all the tickets into their online baskets ahead of purchase." The Organizing Committee said, "If a consumer doesn't acquire the tickets or manage to buy them in the required time, they will return to free sale." Tickets for hockey's final cost between 7,000 rubles ($233) and 34,000 rubles ($1,132) (R-SPORT, 2/7). CoSport, which provides Olympic hospitality packages and event tickets, announced on Thursday that individual tickets to the Sochi Winter Games will be available on Monday at 12pm ET (CoSport).
LET THE COUNTDOWN BEGIN: RUSSIA TODAY noted with exactly 365 days left before Sochi 2014, the Olympic clocks have begun their countdown in Moscow and seven other cities across Russia. The far eastern city of Khabarovsk "was first to start" its clock, which was erected in front of the Platinum Arena where Kontinental Hockey League side Amur plays its home games (RT, 2/7). At a ceremony on Thursday, IOC President Jacques Rogge officially invited all National Olympic Committees and their athletes to take part in the Sochi Games. Rogge personally delivered invitations to representatives of the NOCs from the host countries of previous and future editions of the Olympic Winter Games (Canada, Russia and South Korea), as well as the NOC of Brazil, which will host the next Summer Olympics (IOC).
A LOOK AHEAD TO 2014: RT noted to celebrate the countdown, "huge electronic clocks (six by four meters) have been set up in the downtown precincts of Russia's nine major cities": Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Rostov-on-Don, and regional centers Khabarovsk, Pyatigorsk and Sochi. Looking ahead, RT noted the Sochi 2014 venues "are concentrated in two clusters, one on the Black Sea coast and the other high in the Caucasus Mountains." In addition to building 11 sports venues (plus a grand plaza, plus the accommodation for delegations) "the Olympic construction project includes massive infrastructure building." Hosting the Games has "required a new international airport terminal, upgrades to local power plants and building new ones, many new roads, bridges, railway lines, tunnels, and optical fiber lines and broadcast equipment." The Games, however, will not be "without a political twist, which has become rather common for the supposedly politics-free Olympic movement." Georgia has said for years that "it would boycott the Sochi Olympics in protest against Russia's role in the 2008 war between Georgia and South Ossetia" (RT, 2/7).