As the clock ticks towards the opening ceremony in Sochi, Russia on February 7, 2014, the inevitable question is, “Are they ready?” With just over 90 days until the opening ceremony all indications are that the facilities and the systems are in place for a record setting Winter Olympic Games.
Media reports indicate that Russia has spent $51 Billion on preparations and facilities. There are allegations of corruption and disappearing funds equal to half the reported expenditures. Irrespective of the financial issues, there has also been controversy over the anti-gay propaganda and there is lingering concern on the weather in this relatively mild climate on the Black Sea.
Vladimir Putin sees the 2014 Winter Games and the 2018 World Cup as opportunities to showcase Russia as a world power much like the impact the 2008 Games had in China. It has been a long time since the 1980 Olympics which featured an ill-advised boycott by the American team and other allies. The Goodwill Games in Moscow in 1986 had a limited worldwide television audience so the international broadcast of the Winter Games in February will likely raise the profile of the country and the resort area in the Caucasus Mountains.
The political climate surrounding the anti-gay controversy along with the cost overruns will test the administration of new IOC President, Thomas Bach. There is no doubt that the Winter Games in Russia will be successful with record spending and the personal commitment of Putin and his administration. However, there is also concern that there may not be enough snow.
Lack of snow was an issue prior to the Games in Vancouver in 2010. However, they were able to overcome the shortage of snow but purists are concerned about the quality of the competition venues with little natural snow.
Sochi will set the record for the most expensive Olympic Games in history. Beijing held the previous record with reported expenditures of $43 Billion. It will be interesting to see the legacy of the Sochi Games, which also includes the Paralympic Games a few weeks after the Olympic Games. But will the Games produce the kind of positive imagery that is so desperately desired by the Russian government. Time will tell.