NEW YORK – It should surprise no one that the preparations for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, turned out to be wildly expensive and riddled with corruption. But the scale of excess is nonetheless staggering. The cost of building ski slopes, ice rinks, roads, halls, and stadiums for winter sports in a subtropical Black Sea resort has been well over $50 billion. Critics say that half of this was either stolen or paid as kickbacks to President Vladimir Putin’s cronies, who just happened to win the biggest contracts.
One critic, a Russian businessman named Valery Morozov, claims that officials in Putin’s own office demanded payoffs for contracts. After being told that he would “be drowned in blood,” Morozov fled the country.
But what did anyone expect in a country where big business, organized crime, and politics so often coincide? And, the grand scale aside, Russia is hardly the only country where Olympic sports, Formula One racing (also to take place later this year in Sochi), or World Cup soccer is a boon for larceny and graft.
Then there is the matter of a host country’s unconscionable laws, which can make an international sporting contest appear unseemly. Nazi Germany’s race laws were firmly in place when the 1936 Berlin Olympics were held, as were curbs on free speech in China in 2008. Russia, for its part, has adopted a ban on “homosexual propaganda” – a Putin-sponsored law that is both ludicrous and so loose that it could be used to arrest anyone deemed to be inconvenient to the authorities.