While the eyes of the world will be on Sochi in less than a year’s time, many are already looking even further ahead, at the long-term benefits of hosting the Olympic Winter Games. Russia hopes that Sochi 2014 will not only turn the city on the Black Sea into a world-class resort but also help create a new social environment and inspire a future generation of champions.
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Holding the Winter Games in the summer resort, better known for sunbathing than for cross country skiing or snowboarding, received support from Russian President Vladimir Putin to showcase the country’s ability to organise major sporting events.
Sochi was not widely known outside of Russia before the city won the right to host the Games at the IOC Session in July 2007. Even after Sochi had won the bid, some critics cast doubt over its ability to stage a successful Games because it had to build almost all the infrastructure, including roads, hotels, a major airport and sporting venues, from scratch.
Now, with just under a year remaining before the Olympic cauldron is lit at the 40,000-seat Fisht Stadium, most of the venues in both the coastal and mountain clusters are nearly completed. In addition to the main Olympic stadium, a coastal cluster, located in the Olympic Park near the city centre, will house arenas for ice hockey, figure skating, speed skating and curling, as well as the Main Media Centre and International Broadcast Centre.
The mountain cluster
The mountain cluster, located in Krasnaya Polyana, approximately 40km from Sochi, will stage all the ski and snowboard events, cross country skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh, luge and ski jumping. “Our task is not only to deliver an innovative Olympic Winter Games, but also to build a city of the future that sets a precedent for the whole of Russia,” said Sochi 2014 President and CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko.
Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov was also confident the Games would leave a long-lasting legacy on his city. “For our city, the Project Sochi 2014 is not only a chance to host the Olympic Winter Games but more importantly a great impetus to revive and rebuild the whole urban infrastructure,” he said. “After the completion of the Games, Sochi will become a year-round world-class resort.”
Additional benefits for the Sochi region
The Games should also bring other benefits to the Sochi region. The federal government is helping the construction of special reservoirs for the biological waste and water purification that, according to experts, will prevent pollution and improve the environmental situation around Sochi, where many houses, just like in many other Russian cities, do not have basic sewage facilities or working plumbing. The Games have also helped create 560,000 new jobs, while the Olympic hosts are drafting nearly 25,000 volunteers to help the Organising Committee, creating a whole new volunteering culture in Russia. “The response for volunteers has been overwhelming as we have received more than 150,000 applications from all across Russia as well as abroad,” said Chernyshenko. “It has become a very competitive programme, almost like getting into a prestigious university.”
“When Sochi began the bidding process in 2005, the concept of volunteering simply did not exist in Russia,” he said. “Now, the volunteer movement is thriving, with a quarter of a million Russians regularly participating in volunteer activity. In the 2012 World Giving Index, for the first time ever, Russia was listed as one of the top ten countries for time spent volunteering, with 21 million volunteers. “Most importantly, tens of thousands of generous people will have the opportunity to become a part of the Sochi 2014 Games as volunteers. This will be an invaluable experience for them, and one that they will be able to pass on to the future generation of volunteers in Russia.”
A much-improved infrastructure
Just like the volunteering, the Games have also opened new frontiers for disabled people in the region, with all the Olympic venues, as well as more than 50 per cent of the Sochi streets, being made accessible for people with disabilities. Sochi’s much-improved infrastructure will allow the city to stage several major international events, including hosting the country’s first Formula One Grand Prix in 2014, the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Sochi also plans to hold a major annual cycling race, called the Tour of Russia, starting from 2014. The race – a smaller version of the famous Tour de France three-week marathon – will start in St Petersburg, continue to Moscow, before the riders fly to Sochi for another three or four days climbing through the Caucasus mountains.
In addition to already existing facilities, the Russian government will spend nearly USD 200 million to build a motor racing circuit around the Olympic Park after signing a seven-year deal with Formula One commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone. “It [Formula One] fits perfectly with the Winter Games as it could use all the hotels and other infrastructure that would be built here by 2014,” President Putin said during the signing ceremony in 2010.
With improved infrastructure, new facilities and major events such as the F1 Grand Prix and the FIFA World Cup turning Sochi into a year-round resort destination, it’s clear that the benefits of the 2014 Winter Games will be felt long after the Olympic flame is extinguished.