Russian businessman Arkady Rotenberg, the boyhood friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, "already is collecting his winnings from what promises to be the most expensive Winter Olympics ever next year," according to Arkhipov & Meyer of BLOOMBERG. Rotenberg’s companies "have been awarded at least" 227B rubles ($7.4B) of contracts for the 2014 Sochi Games. That’s more than the entire budget for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, "though it represents just 15 percent of Russia's latest estimate for the Sochi event." Those contracts, which number at least 21, include a share of an $8.3B "transport link between Sochi and ski resorts in the neighboring Caucasus Mountains," a $2.1B highway along Sochi’s Black Sea coast, a $387M media center, and a $133M "stretch of venue-linking tarmac that will double as Russia’s first Formula One track." University of Michigan Sports Economist Stefan Szymanski said, "This is a monumental waste of public money. A small number of people at the top have control of resources and there is no accountability." While Rotenberg and long-time Putin associates stand to gain from Russia’s Olympian largesse, tycoons Vladimir Potanin and Oleg Deripaska say that "they’re getting squeezed." Potanin and Deripaska, the CEOs and largest owners of OAO GMK Norilsk Nickel (GMKN) and United Co. Rusal (RUALR), "respectively the world’s largest producers of nickel and aluminum, have been handed projects that may not turn a profit for years, if ever." Rotenberg’s aide said that "he was unable to comment on his work on the Olympics" (BLOOMBERG, 3/19).
Russian President Vladimir Putin called for "visa-free travel for athletes and sportspeople competing in an upcoming series of major sports events in Russia," according to R-SPORT. Russia is to host competitions including next year's Winter Olympics, the 2018 FIFA World Cup and August's world athletics championships. Putin said, "It would be right if we introduced visa-free travel for all athletes who will be taking part in these competitions." Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said that the Russian government is considering a bill that would allow visa-free travel for athletes and sports officials from "non-dangerous countries." He did not say when the new bill "could be brought before parliament if approved by the cabinet." It was not immediately clear which countries could be deemed "non-dangerous" (R-SPORT, 3/19).