Putin’s anger flares over Sochi Olympic cost overruns



NATALIYA VASILYEVA | AP

Published — Friday 8 February 2013

Last update 7 February 2013 11:06 pm

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

SOCHI, Russia: A year before the 2014 Winter Olympics are to begin, President Vladimir Putin has demanded that a senior member of the Russian Olympic Committee be fired, apparently due to cost overruns in host city Sochi.
The current price tag for the Sochi Games is 1.5 trillion rubles ($51 billion), which would make them the most expensive games in the history of the Olympics — more costly even than the much-larger Summer Olympics held in London and Beijing.
The games at the Black Sea resort of Sochi are considered a matter of national pride and one of Putin’s top priorities.
Putin’s decision came after he scolded officials over a two-year delay and huge cost overruns in the construction of the Sochi ski jump facilities.
The Russian official involved, Akmet Bilalov, had a company that was building the ski jump and its adjacent facilities before selling its stake to state-owned Sberbank last year.
During his tour of Olympic venues, Putin fumed when he heard that the cost of the ski jump had soared from 1.2 billion rubles ($40 million) to 8 billion rubles ($265 million) and the project was behind schedule.
“So a vice president of the Olympic Committee is dragging down the entire construction? Well done! You are doing a good job,” Putin said Wednesday, seething with sarcasm.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak told reporters Thursday that Putin had recommended that the Russian Olympic Committee fire Bilalov, one of its six vice presidents.
“As far as Bilalov is concerned the president voiced his decision yesterday: People who don’t make good on their obligations at such a scale cannot head the Olympic movement in our country,” he said.
Most countries that host the Olympics use public funds to pay for most of the construction of the sports venues and new infrastructure like roads and trains. The Russian government, however, has gotten state-controlled companies and tycoons to foot more than half of the bill.
Both the companies and the tycoons understand the importance of maintaining good relations with Putin, who has a lot of prestige riding on the success of the Sochi games.
Kozak said the costs constantly increased for the ski jump project because Bilalov’s company did not properly check the land and, as a result, picked a geologically challenging plot.
“His calculations failed,” Kozak said.
The Russian Olympic Committee was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that Bilalov’s future can only be decided by a session of its executive committee.
Despite these setbacks, Russian officials on Thursday went to great lengths to reiterate that everything in Sochi was now on schedule.
“As IOC members and we stated yesterday, it is already clear that we have succeeded with this immense and possibly the most immense project in Russia’s modern history,” Kozak said.
Taking a cue from Putin, however, Russian officials sought to play down the high costs. Kozak said the government spent no more than 100 billion rubles ($3 billion) on the Olympic venues and the immediate infrastructure.
The government has spent a total of $13 billion so far, and expects to spend about $18 billion overall before the games begin, Kozak has said previously.
On Thursday, Kozak said it was unfair to compare Sochi’s budget to that of previous Olympic games because Russian organizers had to build most of the vital and costly infrastructure that was needed — roads, railways, tunnels, gas pipelines — from scratch.
No Russian officials went near the topic of possible corruption, even though Russian business is notoriously plagued by it. Russia last year ranked 133rd out of 176 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, along with countries such as Kazakhstan, Iran and Honduras.
Although there were no documented cases of corruption directly linked to Olympic construction in Sochi, a dozen officials from the Sochi government have been slapped with charges of corruption in the past year.
Kozak and Sochi officials insist that they’re keeping the situation under control and that no money is being stolen at Olympic sites.
Sochi organizers also sought to assuage fears that the 2014 Games may fall victim to a warm and snowless winter — or a howling blizzard.
Temperatures at Sochi’s Krasnaya Polyana ski resort hovered at 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) on Thursday, and reached 66 degrees F (19 C) in the coastal city of Sochi.
That’s after a cold snap the previous week in which athletes competed in test events amid snowstorms as temperatures dipped to 20 degrees F (-6 C).
Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the local organizing committee, said Sochi boasts one of one Europe’s largest snow-making systems and also has equipment that can store snow throughout the summer and protect slopes and tracks from rain and fog. More than 400 snow-making generators will be deployed on the slopes.
He said Sochi has special equipment that can make snow even in temperatures up to 59 degrees (15 C).
“Snow will be guaranteed in 2014,” Chernyshenko declared.
Warm temperatures and rain disrupted some of the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
The countdown celebrations were to culminate later Thursday in a star-studded ice show at one of the Olympic arenas, attended by Putin and IOC President Jacques Rogge.
Also Thursday, tickets for the games went on sale online in Russia. The prices range from a low of 500 rubles ($17) to a high of 50,000 rubles ($1,700). Organizers said about 40 percent of the tickets would be priced under 3,000 rubles ($100). The total number of tickets put on sale was not disclosed.
In a bid to combat ticket scalping, Sochi organizers said they would limit the number of tickets that can be bought by one person. For the most popular events, such as the opening ceremony and top ice hockey games, the limit would be four tickets per person.
Sochi organizers will also require visitors to apply for a special spectator pass without which they will not be able to access the venues.
The games run from Feb. 7-23, 2014.
___
Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Al Hamzi, director general of prisons, has sacked Brig. Ahmad Al Shahrani, director of Jeddah prisons, after the case of a video clip about prisoners taking heroin went viral, according to local media.Quoting informed source...
RIYADH: Plans are underway to shift the labor dispute commission in the Ministry of Labor to the Ministry of Justice. Related discussions were held here Thursday between Justice Minister Walid Al-Samaani and Labor Minister Mufrej Al-Haqabani.The disc...
JEDDAH: Drifting has taken a heavy toll of young men who spent their time and energy in the pursuit of this dangerous game for lack of family awareness and guidance.Observers said that the last decade witnessed a dramatic increase in traffic accident...
RIYADH: A mass brawl between migrant workers at a company along Al-Thumama Road broke out in Riyadh on Thursday, causing the death of one worker and the burning of two police vehicles.A Riyadh police source said authorities received a report on Thurs...
JEDDAH: Thousands of expatriates living in Jeddah, who are non-Arabic speakers, were excited about the monthlong 36th Jeddah Festival.The Jeddah and summer festivals this year had a number of theatrical events, entertainment programs, fireworks, arti...
MADINAH: In a tragic Madinah incident, two children died and a woman was injured in a fire which broke out in a house.Capt. Naif bin Mohammad Al-Juhani, spokesman for Civil Defense, said the control room received information about the fire incident i...
JEDDAH: Saudi Aramco said it has financed building 63,000 houses for Saudis through the citizen house owning program implemented by the company. The company said it has granted 1,037 loans to Saudis to build new houses in 2014, stressing that this pr...
RIYADH: A special team of officials from the Ministry of Health, led by Deputy Minister Hamad Aldhwilaa, visited hospitals in the southern border area to ensure that services are available to serve patients in the Asir, Jazan and Najran regions.On ar...
DAMMAM: On April 30 1935, drilling started on test well No. 1 in Dammam. After seven months, only gas was found with traces of oil at a depth of 700 meters. So it had to be plugged. Drilling began on Dammam well No. 2 on Feb. 8, 1936, and started pro...
JEDDAH: A team of doctors at King Abdul Aziz Hospital carried out emergency life-saving surgery on a Kazakh pilgrim who was suffering from a rare disease, on the night of Eid Al-Fitr, according to a website.The 17-year-old Kazakh pilgrim was brought...
JEDDAH: Members of sector committees affiliated with the Council of Saudi Chambers have tried to reach a settlement with the Ministry of Labor that would allow laborers to work on their projects during the day.The attempt was made based on an agreeme...
JEDDAH: The increase in school fees has caused parents to remove their children from private schools and enroll them in public schools in Madinah.With the approaching new school year, many parents were surprised to find that school fees were increase...
RIYADH: The size of the tourism industry has crossed the SR100-million mark with around 130 organizations in the field and the revenues generated through festivals are approximately SR11 billion annually, experts have said. The figures have been prov...
JEDDAH: A total of 105 pay-and-park areas have been opened in the city, including Jeddah historical district, downtown market place, Bab Makkah, Al Andalus Street and Palestine Street.Hani Ahmad Abdullah, media spokesperson for Jeddah Municipality, s...
RIYADH: Moroccan Ambassador Abdussalam Baraka has praised “excellent” trade and bilateral relations between his country and Saudi Arabia and expected the ties to grow further.Speaking on the occasion of Morocco’s National Day on Thursday night, the e...

Stay Connected

Facebook