Sochi: Games with a lasting legacy

Controversy over the Sochi Winter Olympics has overshadowed the benefits of regional development in the Russian Caucasus

Source: Mikhail Mordasov

There is a lot of criticism, some of it justified, regarding the upcoming Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

Before mentioning the benefits of the Games, it should be remembered that, yes, the $50 billion spent on the Olympic infrastructure may appear to be excessive when compared with the initial budget of $13,7 billion. Other Olympic Games have also been hugely expensive, such as the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, which currently holds the record at a cost of $35,6 billion.

Other critics stress the fact that some inhabitants were kicked out of their homes without compensation, and the population of this seaside resort has given evidence to journalists of how fed up it is of six years of uninterrupted construction work that has caused many problems, especially for motorists.

But the Olympic Games are not just a black hole for criticism. Over and above the supreme sporting quality expected from the events to be held in February and March, 2014, Sochi and its region are now benefiting from a level of development for which they could scarcely have hoped, had it not been for the Olympic wave engulfing it.

First of all there is Sochi airport, where construction had been suspended since 1989. In its candidature of the Olympics, the city in the Caucasus had promised that the airport would be renovated and put into service. Terminal B has already begun to host internal airlines during the testing phase. In February 2010 the airport was officially inaugurated, and in the autumn of that year, Terminal C began to serve international destinations. Finally, on November 19, 2013, the inauguration of Terminal A increased the total capacity of the airport.

As for the development of Sochi and its region, Olympic investment in power and telecommunications are far from being purposeless. One hundred and ninety-three electrical installations have been built or will soon be completed so that the city’s power output has increased from a total of 440 MW to 1,000 MW (slightly less than consumption for the whole of central Paris).

As for telecommunications, the Rostelcom and Megafon companies have installed a 3G network covering the whole of the area, encompassing the city and the Olympic sites.

Nor should it be forgotten that Sochi will be setting an example to Russian cities with respect to disabled access, since 1,801 of the international hosting sites will be meeting accessibility standards by February 2014, in addition to the 300 streets, bus stops and pedestrian precincts in this seaside resort.

“Touchpads have been installed on the pavements to assist those with poor vision and pavement heights have been reduced in places to assist the movements of wheelchair-users. New bus shelters fitted with special displays designed to help people with reduced mobility have also been installed in the city,” said Janna Grigorieva, the director of the Olympic Department of the Sochi municipality. 

This development will directly benefit the inhabitants and visitors to the resort. But what will happen to the sports facilities once the Olympic Games are over? Will Sochi look like those many ghost towns that experienced their hour of glory and fell into disrepair once the events were over?

This is not the plan. The Fisht Stadium, for example, which will be hosting the Olympic Games’ opening and closing ceremonies, will also be used for staging the 2018 World Football Cup matches. 

The Shaiba Ice Rink, in which the ice hockey matches will be played, will be converted into a children’s sports education center. The list goes on. The Adler Arena will become a fairground; the Laura complex will be a national training center for Nordic skiing, and the Sanki and Rosa Khoutor Center will be used for bobsledding and snowboarding.

At the same time as these structures are being created especially for the Olympics, it should also be noted that in September 2013, the Sochi Sports University took in its first cohort of students. The university will be training specialists in the sports industry, offering courses in diplomacy, administration and sports legislation.

At its inauguration, Alexander Tkachev, the governor of the Krasnodar region, claimed that thanks to the university, Sochi would become a world center for teaching, business and sport.

“That is very important for our region. The university will be training Olympic-class professionals and the graduates will create a genuine basis for the development of sport in our country.”

So even though it must be admitted that the Games have been expensive, it has certainly not been in vain.

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