Putin’s anger flares over Sochi Olympic cost overruns

Updated 07 February 2013
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Putin’s anger flares over Sochi Olympic cost overruns

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.
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Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.


Ramadel Falcao, Juan Cuadrado and Yerry Mina star as stylish Colombia break Polish hearts

Updated 52 min 16 sec ago
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Ramadel Falcao, Juan Cuadrado and Yerry Mina star as stylish Colombia break Polish hearts

  • The disappointing Poland became the first European side eliminated from the tournament
  • The South Americans’ bid for a place in the last 16 will be determined by the results from their final game with Senegal

KAZAN: Radamel Falcao, Yerry Mina and Juan Cuadrado scored as stylish Colombia boosted their World Cup last 16 hopes with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Poland on Sunday.
In a match destined to see the loser sent home after the group stages, Colombia overcame a nervous start against Adam Nawalka’s men to move up to third place in Group H, one point behind Japan and Senegal.
The disappointing Poland became the first European side eliminated from the tournament.
“I’m very sorry and very sad about the result, but tomorrow’s another day and we have to come to terms with things,” said Poland coach Adam Nawalka.
“Our players did their best until the end of the game. We lost to a very strong team and this is something we have to accept.
“I extend my congratulations to Colombia.”
The South Americans’ bid for a place in the last 16 will be determined by the results from their final game with Senegal, who drew 2-2 with Japan earlier in the day.
Colombia’s march to the quarter-finals in Brazil four years ago came thanks to James Rodriguez’s six-goal tally for Los Cafeteros.
And days after a troublesome calf injury restricted him to a half-hour cameo role as 10-man Colombia stumbled to a 2-1 defeat against Japan, the Bayern Munich midfielder was back to his best.
Starting alongside Juan Quintero and Cuadrado on the right, Colombia’s ultra-offensive starting line-up was a forewarning.
After riding a tense start that forced Mina and then Wilmar Barrios to react quickly to thwart early threats from Robert Lewandowski, Colombia eventually got into their stride.
Cuadrado was wasteful on several occasions when finding space deep on the right flank.
The Juventus winger’s trickery would eventually pay dividends, but it was Falcao — who has dreamed all his life of scoring a World Cup goal — who turned on the style, dancing through the Polish defense to win the corner that led to Colombia’s opener.
Rodriguez’s short corner eventually found Quintero, whose smart through ball back to Rodriguez gave him time and space to curl a perfect left-footed cross that Mina rose to header powerfully past Szczesny on 40 minutes.
Colombia resumed in positive fashion, Cuadrado holding up well to set up Falcao for a first-time drive that sailed over Szczesny’s crossbar.
A Colombia counter saw Falcao’s drive from the edge of the area deflected out for a corner.
Nawalka replaced Dawid Kownacki with the more experienced Kamil Grosicki and the switch almost paid dividends.
Only the bravery of goalkeeper David Ospina saved Colombia from conceding what looked like the equalizer when he rushed out to block from Lewandowski after the Bayern Munich striker did well to get a shot away from a long ball from midfield.
Poland threatened again, but when Lewandowski got his head to a cross into the area he was marked by both Mina and Davinson Sanchez.
Colombia, however, were not to be denied.
When right-back Sanitago Arias found Quintero, the midfielder sliced Poland’s defense apart with a low pass that found Falcao on the run before he beat Szczesny down low with the outside of his right boot.
Five minutes later, Rodriguez produced arguably the assist of the night, drawing several Polish players on the left flank before somehow finding Cuadrado on the run with a superb cross-field pass that the pacey winger tucked away.