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Sochi Prepares for 2014 Winter Games


The Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi has been awarded the 2014 Olympic Winter Games after a personal appeal by President Vladimir Putin.

On July 5, after a meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Guatemala City, IOC President Jacques Rogge made the long awaited announcement.

"The International Olympic Committee has the honor of announcing that the 22nd Olympic Winter Games in 2014 are awarded to the city of Sochi,” says Rogge.

Just a day earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin lobbied hard for Sochi, addressing the IOC meeting in English.

"Sochi is a unique place,” says Putin. “On the seashore you can enjoy a fine spring day. But up in the mountains, it's winter. I went skiing there six or seven weeks ago and I know -- real snow is guaranteed. And one more special privilege: No traffic jams. I promise!"

Mr. Putin ended his speech in French, urging IOC members to vote for Sochi. Millions of Russians," said Mr. Putin, "await your decision."

The Sochi Campaign

Sochi was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics by defeating Pyeongchang, South Korea by a vote of 51 to 47.

Analysts such as Lauren Goodrich, a Russia expert with the Stratfor private research firm, say Mr. Putin proved to be the difference.

"They [i.e., the Russians] won by only four votes. They scraped past and they would not have done that unless Putin had gone there and schmoozed and used his great charisma to do that," says Goodrich. "It was a pretty interesting sight to see him go around to each group and speak each group's language to make sure that he got across: 'Look, I'm here, I'm interested.' He used every ounce of his charisma -- he has it, when he wants to show it,"

Rebuilding a City

Experts say now that Sochi has won the right to host the winter Olympics, the really hard work will begin.

Jason Lyall, a Russia expert with Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, says a major concern is that everything has to be built from the bottom up.

"Sochi is a town of about 300,000 maybe and it has no infrastructure for the Olympics. All 11 sites have to be built from scratch. The entire city is going to have to be renovated up to international standards. Its airport is going to have to be renovated. Its seaport is going to have to be renovated,” says Lyall. “They are estimating now that about 200 kilometers of new roads, a new electricity grid, 25,000 new hotel rooms -- this is literally a 'virtual bid' that is going to have to be built entirely from scratch."

Lyall says the Russian government has already pledged 12 billion dollars for the effort. "And that's probably just an initial start-up. These things always have overruns and cost delays and things of that nature. So this is just the initial outlay. But for the Russian budget, this is quite a substantial sum. It is estimated that this is approximately what Russia spends in a year on its education and health. So this is not an insubstantial undertaking,” says Lyall.

Lauren Goodrich, from Stratfor, says the Russian billionaires known as oligarchs are also setting their sights on Sochi. "You really see all the big power players in Russia. Oleg Deripaska who owns Rusal Aluminum [Russian aluminum industry company] -- he's already putting up a few billion and he'll put up a few billion after that. Roman Abramovich who's out in the United Kingdom, who is a stakeholder in Evraz Steel [and owner of the Chelsea Football Club] -- he's already promised as many billions as needed. And then Vladimir Potanin from Interros [a private investment company] has already said he is going to give about two billion as well,” says Goodrich. “This is a lot of money for these people to be putting up. But at the same time, these are the people who are going to be getting the contracts when everything gets built."

Challenges Ahead

Some experts question whether seven years is enough time to transform Sochi into a world-class venue for the Olympic Winter Games. But Michael Lange, head of the Moscow office of the realtor Jones Lang LaSalle, says it can be done.

"Seven years -- yeah -- given the sort of normal construction cycles and implementation times, I think should definitely be enough. We have seen so many things happen here. Russia does have the strength to create something in that period of time. And again, the current presidential administration and future ones will do whatever it takes to demonstrate to the world that Russia will deliver," says Lange.

Experts say another area where Russia will have to deliver is security, making sure Sochi does not become a target for terrorist attacks. Jason Lyall from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School says Sochi is located near a very volatile region.

"Sochi is about 500 kilometers from Chechnya and it is about 400 kilometers from Beslan, which was the site of the school hostage crisis in 2004. And they decided to put the ski runs at Krasnaya Polyanka, near Karachaevo-Cherkessia, which is the site of the fastest growing insurgency in the Caucasus,” says Lyall. “So this is a really unstable region. And it's hard to estimate seven years out, but there could be substantial security risks if these insurgencies are not ended by the time that the Olympics are scheduled to be held."

But Dale Herspring, a Russia expert at Kansas State University, does not believe there will be any security risk. "I've spent too much time with Russian security types -- they don't play games. They will have that place closed down so that even a stray dog couldn't get in. If they have to send a whole division down there -- a whole mountain division down there -- they will, in order to make sure nothing happens," says Herspring.

This will be the first time Russia hosts the Winter Olympic Games. In 1980, Moscow was the venue for the Summer Games. But the United States led a boycott of more than 60 nations to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Barring a major international catastrophe, experts say the Sochi Winter Games will be well attended.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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