Costs Climb As Sochi Winter Olympics Approaches

Jan 5, 2014
Originally published on January 5, 2014 6:55 pm
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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Russia is spending $51 billion on the Sochi Winter Olympics, the most expensive Olympic Games ever by a wide margin. The preparations have not gone smoothly. Construction has been delayed repeatedly and marred by accusations of political corruption. The outlandish price tag for the games has turned into an embarrassment for Russian officials.

Joshua Yaffa's latest article on Sochi is the cover story for the new issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. Yaffa says that Vladimir Putin sees these Olympics as an important part of his legacy.

JOSHUA YAFFA: With the project having that sort of significance and that being obvious to all players involved, especially those involved in building the venues required to host the Olympics, nobody was shy about asking for more money. And everybody understood that with the projects so important to the top leadership of the country, there would be a sense permeating all the way down to the lowest levels that cost really was no object.

RATH: Now, expensive construction delays seem like they're par for the course with Olympic Games. Have the problems with Sochi been much worse than typical?

YAFFA: There's never been an Olympics that came in on budget. And I think that that's important to remember in looking at the story of how Sochi was built, in that it really magnified or exaggerated certain historical trends that have really been going back decades.

RATH: What have been some of the biggest boondoggles in the construction process?

YAFFA: Certainly, the highest profile boondoggle, as you say, was the construction of the ski jump. It came in more than two years beyond its initial deadline, cost throws to $265 million. And the official responsible for the construction of the ski jump had been fired from his post. Criminal investigations were launched into alleged cases of fraud and embezzlement. He fled the country. And for many, the history of the ski jump became a metaphor for many of the issues that have seen throughout the various venues and infrastructure projects.

RATH: Do you think Sochi will be ready for the games next month?

YAFFA: I think it will pull off the games in a way that looks good on television. I've always been interested in, at what cost has Russia put on these Olympic Games? At what cost to the Russian budget, to the Russian taxpayer? What that says about Russia's own policies and priorities under Putin.

RATH: Joshua Yaffa's story, "Vladimir Putin's Ego-Driven Waste-Filled, Corrupt-Riddled, Security-Challenged, $51 Billion Olympic Adventure," is the cover story for the new issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. Josh, thanks.

YAFFA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.