Remember Sochi? After this Russian town’s hosting of the 2014 Olympics just 6 months ago, it’s a ghost town. It’s another expensive showcase of how political hubris and lack of post-event planning are a surefire way of draining away taxpayers’ money down the numerous white elephants’ drains.
See the pictures by Russian photographer Alexander Belenkiy of Rosa Khutor, one of the main hubs of the “mountain cluster” of the Olympic venues for events like skiing and snowboarding. Vladimir Putin’s government spent US$2 billion to build the Rosa Khutor ski resort, and another $8.7 billion to connect the host town, Krasnaya Polyana, by road and rail to the Game’s other events in the coastal areas.
These amounts are part of the Sochi Olympics’ total jaw-dropping bill of $51 billion — more than all previous Winter Games combined and way more than the $12 billion Putin said Russia would spend back in 2007.
The Games had to be at Sochi because Putin’s favorite ski resort, Krasnaya Polyana is in the nearby mountains. The Sochi Games were meant to prove to the world Russia’s resurrection and a personal validation of Putin’s almost 15 years as the country’s most powerful. Sochi was vital in keeping Putin’s power.
Now the town is “lifeless,” the photographer wrote on his Live Journal blog. The restaurants, shops and hotels are operating at a dismal 5% capacity. Up to 49 hotels with a capacity of 26,000 were built.
In the places built for the Olympics, Belenkiy noted, “there is simply nothing to do,” and there are no people doing anything. In one 5-storey parking garage, “there wasn’t even a single car … the only thing being parked there are broken toilets.” Local people are doing crossword puzzles rather than looking at guide books, noted another.
Sure, the next winter ski season may bring in the much needed tourists, but, according to the Business Insider, “given the admitted lack of post-Olympic planning that went into the Sochi venues, these photos are ominous for the legacy of the 2014 games. They’re reminiscent of the abandoned venues from the 2004 Athens Olympics, the most notorious cautionary tale for poor post-Olympic planning”
Up to 11 huge athletic venues and other related buildings erected at costs that, in some cases, even a government audit have revealed to have cost twice as much as necessary and with “unreasonable” cost overruns.“ This isn’t surprising when you consider that businessmen with close ties to the federal and regional leaders won many of the contracts. In a typical story of Russian business, companies belonging to Vladimir Putin’s old judo partner Arkady Rotenberg were awarded at least $7.4 billion of Olympic contracts,” a reporter who covers Olympics had written.
The integrity and environmental impact of these buildings and infrastructure had also been questioned. And first hand accounts of strange toilets, packs of stray dogs had made Sochi in pre-opening media coverage more of a punchline.
“An economic boost based on corrupt spending is an illusion, the equivalent of a sugar high,” The New Yorker had written in February. Yes, the pictures show it.
Athens, which hosted the 2004 Olympics, share the same cautionary tale. Greece spent $11 billion, way over budget. Weeds and stray dogs now rule over the venues for softball, volleyball and kayaking, Reuters had reported.
Researchers Bent Flyvbjerg and Allison Stewart had been quoted saying these words of wisdom: “For a city and nation to decide to host the Olympic Games is to take on one of the most financially risky type of mega project that exists…Something that many cities and nations have learned to their peril.”