Long Read: “The Waste and Corruption of Vladimir Putin’s 2014 Winter Olympics”

sochi terrorism morin

(Jim Morin via GoComics.com)


From Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

At $51 billion, the Sochi Games are the costliest ever, surpassing the $40 billion spent by China on the 2008 Summer Olympics. The suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd on Dec. 29 and 30 have heightened fears of terrorism and given a renewed focus to security concerns as well as questions of cost. How the Sochi Games grew so expensive is a tale of Putin-era Russia in microcosm: a story of ambition, hubris, and greed leading to fabulous extravagance on the shores of the Black Sea. And extravagances, in Russia especially, come at a price.

Back in 2007, when Russia was bidding to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, the huge amounts it was willing to spend were a point of pride, an enticement meant to win over officials at the International Olympic Committee. Putin traveled to Guatemala City to give a rare speech in English, with even a touch of French, to the assembled IOC delegates, promising to turn Sochi into “a world-class resort” for a “new Russia” and the rest of the world. His pledge to spend $12 billion in Sochi dwarfed the bids of the other finalists from South Korea and Austria.

But since then, as costs have increased, Russian officials have grown less eager to boast about the size of the final bill. “In the beginning, money was a reason and argument for Russia to win the right to host the Olympics,” says Igor Nikolaev, director of strategic analysis at FBK, an audit and consulting firm in Moscow. “But it turned out we spent so much that everybody is trying not to talk about it anymore.” Dmitry Kozak, deputy prime minister in charge of Olympic preparations, has argued that the $51 billion number is misleading. Only $6 billion of that is directly Olympics-related, he says; the rest has gone to infrastructure and regional development the state would have carried out anyway. That may be true, though it’s hard to imagine the Russian government building an $8.7 billion road and railway up to the mountains without the Games.

Bent Flyvbjerg, an expert on what are called “megaprojects” at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University, says the costs for Olympic host nations have on average tripled from the initial bid to the opening ceremonies. In Sochi, costs rose nearly five times. That these Olympics should be the most expensive in history is all the more improbable, says Allison Stewart, a colleague of Flyvbjerg’s at Oxford, because compared with Summer Games, Winter Olympiads involve fewer athletes (2,500 vs. 11,000), fewer events (86 vs. 300), and fewer venues (15 vs. 40)…

Many, many more colorful details at the link.

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41 replies
  1. 1
    CarolDuhart2 says:

    Leaving aside inflation, I bet two things are driving this: the security, and the increased demands for luxury. Gone are the days when the Olympic Village resembled a college dorm and had similar secuirty. Gone are the days when a person could perhaps amble down on a day trip and attend the event.

  2. 2
    WereBear says:

    What, capitalism is crushing them?

  3. 3
    Baud says:

    Reminds me of how Mitt Romney “saved” the Salt Lake City games.

    ETA: Also reminds me of Mitt Romney’s campaign.

  4. 4
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Unrestrained capitalism degenerates into corruption REALLY fast. Adam Smith hinted of this.

    But then again, no one, especially the “Free Market” faithful, ever reads Smith.

  5. 5
    LanceThruster says:

    Go sports?

  6. 6
    PsiFighter37 says:

    @CarolDuhart2: I bet a good chunk of it is hosting the Olympics in a part of Russia that undoubtedly has shitty infrastructure and no capacity to actually hold the influx of tens of thousands of people who will show up for this thing.

    I would also bet that as soon as it’s over, there will be no upkeep of the facilities, and everything will rot over time.

  7. 7
    me says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Although in this case that’s a feature, not a bug. I wonder how much of that money ended back up in Putin’s pocket.

  8. 8
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Romney was quoted on NPR (he was on Fox this morning, so it was just a sound bite) saying very complimentary things about Russia’s security readiness for the Olympics.

    Unlike what he said about London’s security preparation in 2012.

  9. 9
    PsiFighter37 says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: He’s probably more jealous with how much Putin is pocketing from the whole endeavor.

    The only numero Mittens cares about is IRR.

  10. 10
    Anne Laurie says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Romney: “Well, unlike that London fop, Vladimir is a man’s man, knows how to keep those people in their place ifyouknowwhatImean… ”

    I’m sure you saw that Pat Buchanan, former Nixon speechwriter, recently praised Putin on-air. A strongman, just like God intended should run nations!

  11. 11
    MattF says:

    Vlad the Extravagant. It’s good to be the King:


  12. 12
    PsiFighter37 says:

    My memory’s fuzzy, mainly because I wasn’t that old, but how exactly did Yeltsin come to decide that Putin was a worthy successor? Maybe there’s no good reason, because my main memory of Yeltsin is that he was a raging alcoholic…but just curious.

  13. 13
    MattF says:

    @PsiFighter37: I suspect it was a good cop/bad cop routine. Then the good cop died of liver failure.

  14. 14
    doug r says:

    @PsiFighter37: Having lived in Calgary in 1988 and Greater Vancouver in 2010, it’s nice to get the federal government to kick in on stadiums and transit trains. We FINALLY got a train between Vancouver and Richmond, only about 60 years after they abandoned the Interurban. http://www.richmond.ca/culture.....eMode=HTML

  15. 15
    Jay C says:

    Gee, what a surprise! The Russians bag a major international prestige event (one requiring a LOT of construction), and the outcome involves a shit-ton of waste, corruption, inefficiency, cronyism and cover-up of the above. In RUSSIA?? Shocking….

  16. 16
    J R in WV says:

    I used to, as a youth, enjoy the olympics, as I actually agreed with the stated principles behind the games.

    Then I saw that those stated principles were just that, paper with meaningless words on it. The actual competitors were the least important of the participants.

    Little girls were expected to nail a landing with a broken leg, and did, with amazing courage. But if you made the least remark not pre-approved by an olympic committee, freedom for oppressed people, for example, your medals were revoked and you were taken into custody until the “games” were over.

    Then we got to see Salt Lake, with unlimited public funding.

    The whole thing is repulsive.

    I haven’t watched TV coverage in years. Don’t plan to. Terrible, what the European royalty in charge have done to what was in the beginning a pure and sweet ideal. But what do you expect from European royalty?

    Corruption, just like their occupation of their African colonies.

  17. 17
    Anoniminous says:

    Who cares? Makes no difference to me or anybody I know how many rubles the Russkies piss away.

    (Like, Seriously. Dude. (ya know?))*

    * I’m testing my young un’s communication interface mode for later this month.

  18. 18
    Ghayduke (formerly Lojasmo) says:


    +37 amirite?

  19. 19
    PsiFighter37 says:

    @Ghayduke (formerly Lojasmo): I suspect the Russian drinking tolerance could well be substantially higher. I’ve never been, but from the stories I here, vodka is the equivalent of Coors Light here.

    @doug r: I visited Vancouver in 2012, and it was cool to see the Olympic torch on the bay still there. Just looking at Sochi on a map, I can’t imagine many people going there just for kicks (but I could be wrong).

  20. 20
    Suzanne says:

    I, personally, am eagerly looking forward to these Olympics. I will enjoy watching the Russian government squirm while everyone tries to spray their gay all over their hosts, who just have to stand there and take it.

  21. 21
    Ben Franklin says:

    Whether communist, socialist or Federalist, there is one common denominator;

    Cold cash. Let’s not confuse amateur athletics with 501c3. Christ. Even 501’s are ledger dominated.

  22. 22
    PsiFighter37 says:

    @Suzanne: Spray their gay – you win the Internets.

    PF37 +3

  23. 23
    🎉 Martin says:

    @Anoniminous: Yeah, I’m with you. Just 5 years ago we were begging for excuses to spend money on almost any infrastructure project.

  24. 24
    gogol's wife says:


    It’s all very byzantine, but I think initially he was recommended by Berezovsky, who had influence over Yeltsin’s daughter, who had influence over Yeltsin . . . . Putin was an unknown quantity then. His despotic tendencies took a while to emerge. He had been a protege of a “democrat,” Sobchak. (not Walter)

  25. 25
    Cermet says:

    @PsiFighter37: Yeltsin wasn’t responsible but rather the FSB (new name for the KGB.) They groomed him and backed him.

  26. 26
    Mike in NC says:


    Reminds me of how Mitt Romney “saved” the Salt Lake City games.

    If only Putin had hired Mittens as an overpaid “adviser”. That would have been too sweet. Expect our fawning media to conduct several pointless interviews with Romney, just because the clown is available and they think his worthless opinions are somehow newsworthy.

    Unfortunately, something very bad is likely to happen in Sochi.

  27. 27
    Baud says:

    @Mike in NC:

    Agree. Sochi will be like watching NASCAR for the car wreck.

  28. 28
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    Given that I almost know a few of the athletes (and actually do know the parents of one) I’ll be watching. I probably will need to resubscribe to Direct TV, too, in order to catch the games I want.

  29. 29
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Mike in NC:

    Unfortunately, something very bad is likely to happen in Sochi.

    You’ve got that right.

    Volgograd was just a small taste.

  30. 30
    catclub says:

    @Mike in NC: Unfortunately, something very bad is likely to happen in Sochi.

    One certainly is already expecting it, given Volgograd, so it probably will not happen. No one expected the Spanish Inquisition.

  31. 31
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @Mike in NC:

    Unfortunately, something very bad is likely to happen in Sochi.

    Actually, I think something bad could happen somewhere else in Russia given the extent to which their security forces have been moved to Sochi. I actually don’t expect anything to happen there but a repeat of Beslan in, say, Novgorod, wouldn’t be very surprising.

  32. 32
    Ben Franklin says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Harumpth. Snowden has an alibi.

  33. 33
    maya says:

    Despite all the doom and gloom so far on this thread I can’t wait to see the new comp category – the Gulag 1800 kilometer. From a central point competitors have 25 hours to get out of Siberia before mounted Kossacks are unleashed. No food, water, skis or snowshoes allowed. Just your February wits. It’s an open field as no team or individual is favored. I’d like to see the Chechnians or, whomever, sabotage that.

  34. 34
    mainmata says:

    @PsiFighter37: Actually long obsolete infrastructure. Sochi was long the “Riviera” of the Soviet Union and the hotels and other venues have long been suitably appalling, hardly reaching even the old Olympic villages and, in general, just drab and faaling apart. (I worked in Russia in the ’90s). So a lot of infrastructure required. I believe that part but I am certain it also involved a huge amount of crony corruption and grifting because that’s what Russian capitalism is mostly about, especially under Putin.

  35. 35
    ruemara says:

    Corruption in Russia? Why, that’s something new under the sun. Next, you’ll say republicans are hateful.

  36. 36
    mainmata says:

    @PsiFighter37: Russian (men in particular) drink an enormous amount, especially working classes but generally as well. It’s a significant factor in male life expectancy. That said, there is a real difference in classes with less binge drinking in the middle and upper classes (more wine and liquors), as you would expect. The state tried several ways of making vodka more expensive but this just led to more home brew (Vodka is not hard to make, actually).

  37. 37
    Mike in NC says:

    @mainmata: We took a Danube River cruise a few years ago and in Slovakia and Hungary, a bottle of vodka was cheaper than a liter of Coca-Cola.

  38. 38
    Matt McIrvin says:

    Morin is drawing Putin as Richard Nixon.

  39. 39
    Captain C says:

    @PsiFighter37: I suspect the main thing was that Putin agreed not to prosecute Yeltsin for his sins, real and imagined by Yeltsin’s enemies.

  40. 40
    Captain C says:

    @maya: For a moment I read “Kossacks” as being members of the GOS.

  41. 41
    docg says:

    The Winter Olympics to sports is like the Kardashians to . . . ., well, anything of value or meaning.

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