With 12 days to go until the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Olymipcs, Russia "is rushing to put the finishing touches on what is arguably its biggest project since the Soviet era," according to Courtney Weaver of the FINANCIAL TIMES. To economists, Sochi "has become a metaphor for broader problems in Russia’s economy, with its vast reserve of petrodollars often dedicated to over-budget prestige projects at the expense of less glamorous but more urgent priorities, such as infrastructure." While many have doubted whether President Vladimir Putin would be able to pull off Sochi’s transformation from an aging Soviet-era resort town to a glistening 21st century metropolis, the president "appears to have dodged the biggest concern -- that it would not be ready in time." The ski jump venue "is ready to welcome visitors," 12 months after Putin said that the project "was six times over budget and a year behind schedule and sacked the project’s main shareholder, Akhmed Bilalov, on the spot." While Krasnaya Polyana has the look of an idyllic, well-established Swiss ski resort, "the picture is less rosy" 45km down the mountain in the main Olympic Park where the indoor events and Opening and Closing Ceremonies will take place. The site "still bears a disturbing resemblance to a mid- to late-stage construction project." The task at hand is "so seemingly gargantuan" that for 12 days it could "defeat the most veteran contractor or party planner" (FT, 1/26).
The Japanese Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government launched the organizing committee for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics Friday with former PM Yoshiro Mori "as its head to start preparation in full swing," according to Masaaki Kameda of the JAPAN TIMES. JOC President Tsunekazu Takeda said, "We start preparations for the success of the 2020 Games under the leadership of President Mori with ‘all-Japan’ efforts." The committee "is in charge of preparations and overall management of the Summer Games." Former Vice Finance Minister Toshiro Muto, who took the post of CEO of the organizing committee, said that the committee "needs to set up concrete and clear goals, including finding sponsors and ticket sales, to share with concerned parties for the success of the Olympics and Paralympics." The budget of the organizing committee is estimated at ¥301.3B ($2.9B) (JAPAN TIMES, 1/24). The AP reported Mori, 76, "initially rejected the request, citing his age, but agreed to accept the post after no other suitable candidates from the Japan business community came forward." Mori is president of the Japan Rugby Football Union and helped Tokyo be chosen for the 2020 Olympics. However, he "has a reputation for contentious comments, and his brief period as prime minister was marked for its gaffes." Tokyo's Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano said, "He is known for his careless remarks. Having him as chairman means there is a high risk of inappropriate comment" (AP, 1/24).