The Winter Olympics in Sochi will cost US$51 billion (NZ$63 billion).

It’s a silly question to ask what else that money could be used for – fighting poverty, funding health or education – because it’s already been spent. Spent to pay for the circus called the Olympic Games.

Like in any business, countries bid for the Games to try make money and get prestige. Spend more, gain more – tourists, television rights, money coming into the country. And for two weeks the country is advertised to the world. Russia wants to make a good impression.

But let’s look at what’s wrong with Sochi. Why anyone would think it a suitable choice to host the Games is beyond me.

– It’s not safe! It’s a city on the fringes of Russia not far from the unstable regions of Dagestan and Chechnya, threats of terrorism are real. Moscow has sent 70 000 troops to the area, in addition to the 10 000 police and 40 000 soldiers already in Sochi. Clearly, they’re expecting some trouble.

– It’s a summer holiday resort! In order to be ready for the Games, residents have had to put up with seven years of building: fifteen new and never-to-be-used-again (probably) sports venues, and hotel space for 10 000 visitors. What happens to them when the last medals have been presented, the artificial snow’s melted and everyone’s gone home?

– Russia takes a different political and cultural stance on some matters of personal and religious freedom. Athletes, visitors and viewers with different backgrounds and experiences could be made to feel unwelcome. Athletes have had to be asked not to make public free-speech protests.

– And even dogs and cats aren’t safe. Orders are out to round-up and put down the 2000 strays on Sochi’s streets – with a the risk that domestic pets could be caught up, too.

Every year since 1896 different city, same expensive mistakes. Host cities rarely have existing venues, hotels, security or even climate! So they bulldoze, build and spend millions and millions of dollars. For just two weeks! What next? Air-conditioned football stadiums in the Qatari desert to host the World Cup? Oh, wait…

Faster, higher, stronger? Foolish, costly, and just showing off, more like.


Article written by Ben Egerton

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