Russia takes the Olympic torch amid disgrace, criticism, and environmental disaster

Posted By: The Ski Channel on March 1, 2010 3:43 pm

Yikes. Harsh headline, I know. But the fact of the matter is, many residents of the Russian Federation are not happy with their mother country right now. As the Olympic torch passes from Vancouver to Sochi for the 2014 Games, Russia should be proud, stoked and confident that they will be stellar hosts of these world sporting events. Unfortunately, on the whole, they are embarrassed, nervous, and insecure.

These Olympics were the worst ever for Russia, as they took home only 15 medals, three golds. That put them in sixth place, and compared to the Torino Games where they won 22 medals (eight golds), this was truly embarrassing.

Russian citizens blame sports bureaucrats and Russian Olympic officials for the poor showing. President Dmitry Medvedev summed up the general opinion: “Those responsible should take the brave decision and sign a letter [of resignation]. If they can’t we will help them”. That sounds like some kind of mafia slang, doesn’t it? “We will help them”…yeesh.

The lack of medals won by Russia at these Games is not the only reason they’re feeling the pressure of 2014. Preparations for the Games have already been tainted with allegations of corruption, poor planning, and environmental disaster. When you think of Russia, clearly you don’t think they’d have a Cypress Mountain-type problem with lack of snow. However, Sochi is apparently one place in Russia that sometimes doesn’t get snow in the winter. Boris Nemstov, former deputy prime minister said, “It would be very hard to find a place in Russia that has no snow in the wintertime, but that’s just what Putin did. Sochi is the warmest place in Russia, with no infrastructure, no experience in winter sports – it doesn’t even have a hockey team – and many other problems”.

Other citizens, including Mr. Nemstov are also irked that a road is being built to connect the mountaintop sports venue of Krasnaya Polyana to the seaside Olympic center. Why? Because it will costs $130 million, and part of a National Park will be destroyed in order to build it. Nemstov explains: “This road is costing $130 million per kilometer to build,” he says. “That’s about 50 times the average cost of a highway in the United States and an indication of how utterly corrupt these preparations around Sochi have become.”

Igor Chestin, CEO of the World Wildlife Federation’s Russian branch adds, “To build this new road they’ve already chopped down ancient forests and destroyed rare species of trees, all in what was formerly a strictly protected National Park.”

Chestin continues: “A very high price is being paid for the rush with which many of these Olympic objects are being built,” he says. “There might be ways to minimize the adverse effects of this hasty construction, but these are not being realized.”

As far as corruption goes, the lack of media attention to these issues is not by choice. Access has been quite restrictive. Many believe that has to do with the cost of these Games being connected to dirty money. “Too many issues are solved without any public airing at all, and officials suffocate media attempts to gain access,” says Mikhail Melnikov, an expert with the Center for Journalism in Extreme situations, a Moscow-based media watchdog.

“All big construction projects mean big money and there is no secret that big money in Russia is closely connected with corruption,” he adds. “Any journalist who writes about this is running a big risk. Our leaders talk about the need to fight corruption, but in practice local officials prevent any information from becoming public,” he adds.

If the Russian mafia takes us out for writing this material…it was nice knowing you guys.