Sochi-2014: The Reverse Side of the Medal

February 4, 2014
Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

As Friday’s opening ceremony draws near, the Institute of Modern Russia, of which The Interpreter is a special project, has launched a comprehensive and interactive website detailing the myriad cases of corruption and controversies surrounding the Olympic Games in Sochi.

The website, available in both English and Russian, presents “exclusive information on 26 Olympic-related objects, including costs associated with the preparations, instances of corruption, and other abuses that occurred during preparation for the Games”. Visitors to the site can browse through both an interactive map and a list of facilities. Having read through, they are invited to take a test on the scale of the corruption, and enter a sweepstakes.

In addition to the breakdown of the costs and abuses of power involved in the construction of the Olympic facilities, such as the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway, which, according to Boris Nemtsov, has cost more than NASA’s Mars program, the site details other abuses of power, such as the Old Believers’ cemetery which has become a battleground between residents and the authorities:

“According to a participant in the rally [against the construction work], representatives of the local administration said: ‘We will shoot to kill. . . . Beware; sharpshooters are posted everywhere.’ In the course of the conflict, an official tried to snatch a pregnant woman’s video camera. A scuffle broke out. People tried to break through the police lines in the direction of the IOC Commission but were stopped. Several participants in the rally were beaten, and crosses on several graves were broken. All demonstrators were arrested, and four of them were fined for participation in an unsanctioned rally.”

At the launch of the report, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a senior policy advisor at the IMR, stated that the Sochi games “have already cost more than the combined price tag of all Winter Games since 1924… Only the amount stolen during construcion has been estimated at $30 billion.” He also cited widespread environmental and architectural destruction, along with widespread mistreatment of construction workers.

The IMR site follows corruption reports by both Alexei Navalny and Boris Nemtsov, both of which have been translated by The Interpreter. These reports clash with the image of Russia that Putin is using the Olympic Games to project, one of a modern, capable and resurgent power. The stunning array of petty corruption and insider deals, for example the $6.9 billion made by Putin’s old friend, Arkady Rotenberg, suggests a country still undermined by economic vassalage and spectacular economic inefficiency.