Sochi may be “the most corrupt Olympics in history”

John Aravosis and others have pushed hard and appropriately at the anti-gay aspects of the Russian-hosted Sochi Winter Olympics.

That story is garnering more and more mainstream notice, which is why this, from the excellent sports editor of The Nation, Dave Zirin, caught my eye. (Yes, The Nation has a sports editor, and a good one.)

But buried in the article is this nugget, about how corrupt this Olympics is. Zirin writes (my emphasis):

The Olympics as viewed from the CEO luxury boxes (source)

The Olympics as viewed from the CEO luxury boxes

The scapegoating of LGBT people also turns attention away from what appears to be the most corrupt Olympics in history—which is quite a feat. Conservative estimates put the cost of the Sochi Games at $51 billion. This is more than 400 percent higher than originally planned, and it would make the Sochi Games the most expensive in history—in fact, more expensive than all of the other Winter Olympics Games combined. The costs have not been accrued because of security concerns, although there will be 30,000 soldiers on the ground and an unprecedented amount of surveillance. Instead, the huge sums involved are the result of some of the most brazen cronyism imaginable.

Industrialists Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, childhood friends of Putin’s, have received twenty-one government contracts, worth a total of $7.4 billion. That’s more than the entire cost of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. A different project, a thirty-one-mile railway project from the coastal Olympic village in Sochi to the one in the mountains, will cost a staggering $8.7 billion. Russian Esquire estimated that for $8.7 billion, the tracks could “have been paved entirely with a centimeter-thick coating of beluga caviar.”

As Russian opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov and Leonid Martynyuk wrote, “Only oligarchs and companies close to Putin got rich. The absence of fair competition [and] cronyism…have led to a sharp increase in the costs and to the poor quality of the work to prepare for the Games.” In his blog, Nemtsov added, “The fact is that almost everything that is related to the cost problems and abuses in preparation for the Olympic Games was carefully concealed and continues to be covered up by the authorities.”

There’s quite a lot in the article about the LGBT issues around this Olympics — that’s the primary point of the piece and an excellent reason to read it.

But the corruption angle should not be ignored. In fact, it could be very helpfully tied to the overall picture of Putin and the Russian state painted by both portraits. Putin’s Russia is best described as a “kleptocracy,” a country looted by its rulers. (We’re well on our way there as well. The difference is, in Russia, Putin holds the reins. Here the wealth hold the reins and our “leaders” are merely the horses pulling the cart — most of them anyway.)

There’s no more visceral portrait than a bigot driven by greed and corruption. My suggestion — tar Putin with both brushes and those not disgusted with the one image will be disgusted by the other. #CheersToSochi indeed.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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