Friday, July 19, 2013

Idiocy of the Winter Olympics Reaches New Heights with the Sochi Site

No We Don’t Know (or Care) Where Sochi Is – But It is Somewhere in Russia

With the summer heat occupying everyone and everywhere obviously it is now time to focus on the winter Olympics.  Surely that is the one event that is on everyone's agenda.

The world has, in the last several decades gone sports mad in general and Olympics mad in particular.  Every two years, for either the winter Olympics or the summer Olympics some country spends huge amounts of money for little or no gain except to entertain the world for a couple of weeks.  Russia is apparently taking this stupidity to a new level.

What a beautiful snow capped site!!

In many ways Sochi is an odd choice for the winter games. It has a subtropical climate and is one of the very few places in Russia where snow is scarce. The opening and closing ceremonies will be held close to the Black Sea on swampy ground, once infested by malarial mosquitoes. Temperatures there rarely fall below zero. The lower slopes of the Caucasus Mountains are not guaranteed snow, so the organisers have stored last winter’s.

Sochi is also worryingly close to the north Caucasus, a predominantly Muslim part of Russia that has been immersed in a bloody civil conflict for two decades. Last year Russia lost 296 soldiers and civilians in the north Caucasus, according to Caucasian Knot, a monitoring organisation, almost as many soldiers as America lost in Afghanistan. “Imagine holding the games in Kabul,” one American official says.

And what about the costs?  Well there is this.

Sochi has already set one record. At an estimated cost of $50 billion, these will be the most expensive games in history. When Russia placed its bid in 2007 it proposed to spend $12 billion, already more than any other country. Within a year the budget had been replaced by a seven-year plan to develop Sochi as a mountain resort. Most of the money is coming from the public purse or from state-owned banks.

Allison Stewart, of the SAID Business School at Oxford, says that Olympics tend to have cost overruns of about 180% on average. For Sochi the overrun is now 500%. But Russia made clear that money was not an issue, says Ms Stewart. She also notes that relations between the government and construction companies appear closer in Sochi than in other games. Large construction projects often have a side-effect of corruption. But in Russia corruption is not a side-effect: it is a product almost as important as the sporting event itself

Supporters will say that this spending promotes economic growth, which it does.  It would be impossible to spend $50 billion and not create at least one permanent job.  But is this really the best Russia or the world can do?  Don’t answer if you’re too busy planning your winter Olympics celebration party, or if you know the difference between a bobsled and a luge.

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