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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35 Responses to “Sochi may be “the most corrupt Olympics in history””

  1. CommonSense says:

    I think there’s another bit of corruption that we’re all ignoring.
    US OLYMPIC TEAM UNIFORMS, SWEATERS ~ Ugliest in the history of the Olympic Games.
    Tommy Hilfiger must be running on cronyism… those sweaters, and ugh, the snowboarders and that PATCHWORK???? Really, really bad.
    I’m a nobody, with no connections, and I could have done better. Yikes ^^ Hilfiger should be banned from all U.S. national events.

  2. CommonSense says:

    Don’t really know what you’re talking about. Cronyism and nepotism go hand in hand with people in positions of power. This isn’t news. What’s your question? Would I die to prevent cronyism? That’s nutty. But anywoo…

  3. oandroido says:

    There’s a vast difference between “allowing” something to happen and being willing to sacrifice one’s life and putting one’s family at risk. I hope you’re not suggesting action through voting, because that’s what got us to where we are now.

  4. olympia1984 says:

    haha!!! Yes, I am CLEARLY being paid by Putin for expressing such an opinion. My point is that there was not such a public outcry when the Salt Lake City games scandal came out to light. Nor when the Atlanta bomb went off. But now there is an olympic game in Russia, and every single media agency and eeeeveryone around is appalled, scared, worried that something may happen. Even the government sent battleships for the “security” of the athletes. My point is, “sweetie”, that the level of insanity around is unbelievable. And the only thing that this whole thing does is one thing: hurt the sport and its athletes. Very soon the Winter Olympic Games will begin. Yes, they are in Russia. Yes, there is corruption surrounding it. Math you say? As you have any effin’ idea how true that amount stated really is, and as you have no effin’ idea the money that was poured for the SLC games into the pockets of IOC members. The games will be in Russia, they will be awesome, we will see athletes that have trained their ENTIRE lives for this moment do unbelievable things. So either you get over the fact that Russia is organizing the games and realize that the Cold War is over, or you change the channel to watch cartoons and keep thinking I get “a check from Putin”. As it will be hard to imagine for you, I can disagree with you without getting paid. And yes, I’m proud to be an american, so don’t fear, I’m not the “russian enemy”. Peace!

  5. CommonSense says:

    Not really news that Putin’s cronies would benefit from Sochi Olympic Games. All of Bush and Cheney’s buddies at Haliburton are still cashing in on Iraq. This is how the rich and powerful operate. It is because we allow it.

  6. sorry, sweetie, math clearly isn’t your strong point, nor logic. were other games tainted by corruption and violence? yes. no one said they weren’t. the point of this piece is “more than ALL OTHER GAMES COMBINED.” that makes these games corrupt on an entirely different order of magnitude.

    but i’m sure that check you’re getting from putin is sweet.

  7. karmanot says:

    Simplest answer: NO.

  8. The_Fixer says:

    True, the Chinese are somewhat better at handling corruption. They have actually applied the death penalty in some cases of corruption. Russians tend to shield the corrupt. I won’t even mention how that’s often the case in the U.S.

    The bottom line is that when a country is ruled solely by rich, corruption is a feature, not a bug. It’s all just a matter of how much corruption.

  9. Nathanael says:

    China is much, much more functional. Loot to a certain extent, but if you go too far — make too many people sick or cause too many workers to strike — the Chinese government will crack down on you and probably execute you by firing squad.

    The Russian government seems to have lost the sense of what “too far” is. Of course, this is not surprising in a country with a cultural tradition of going too far and a cultural tradition of drinking too much.

  10. Nathanael says:

    Oh, I’ll say it, we should go socialist. (Democratic socialist, obviously — none of this “dictatorship of the proletariat” nonsense.) And I guess that means I’m not a hypocrite.

    I miss Gorbachev.

  11. olympia1984 says:

    Yeah! What a fiasco! As opposed to the Atlanta games which a bomb blew up in a park killing 2 and injuring 100, and the Salt Lake City games which were involved in providing bribes to IOC members to win the bid. Dude, Sean, why don’t you inform yourself before being a hypocrite.

  12. olympia1984 says:

    All this insane talk about the games being corrupt, not safe, russian officials getting rich. Well, let me start by saying the Salt Lake City games were tainted in a huge scandal that nearly destroyed it, and Romney had to “rescue” it. Games not safe? Need I remind you the last terrorist attack was on the Atlanta games? Officials getting rich? This is the country where the top 1% make more than the 99% combined. Not saying we should go socialist here, but AREN’T WE ALL A BIT HYPOCRITES HERE?

  13. olympia1984 says:

    Corruption in the US? You mean the Salt Lake City games? Well…. it happened. Look it up. Inform yourself. Then talk.

  14. olympia1984 says:

    As opposed to the Salt Lake City winter olympic games that were involved in a huge bribery to IOC members scandal?

  15. Mathew King says:

    what’s another billion or two? it’s merely moot to russia.

  16. Mathew King says:

    i thought that was given. it’s russia after all. all you have to do is to take a cursory look at the history of russia the last 150 years to get a very good idea what’s it all about.

  17. The_Fixer says:

    Russia, China…same difference in the end. Both governments can be bought off to get that government approval.

    Not that we’d know anything about that in the U.S., of course…

  18. nicho says:

    Corruption? In Russia? Oh, my. Quick, Prissy, my fan. I think I’m going to have the vapors. Whoever could imagine such a thing?

  19. Naja pallida says:

    Calculating for inflation, and the basic need for each Olympics to outdo the previous one, the Sochi Games shouldn’t have ever cost much more than about $4 billion USD, and at that cost it should be wildly extravagant from beginning to end, with outstanding infrastructure, art, architecture, and excellent facilities for everyone attending. Neither the Vancouver nor the Salt Lake City games topped $2 billion, and they were hardly scandal nor cost controversy free. This may be among the most corrupt operations since Bernie Madoff and US banking.

  20. Naja pallida says:

    Not sure I’d call China a free market, considering the government has to sign off on everything. Not to say there isn’t plenty of corruption, but free it is not. Russia on the other hand, is essentially controlled by gangsters and corporate interests (not necessarily mutually exclusive entities), that embezzle with impunity.

  21. BeccaM says:

    Actually, I think China has that title.

    But yes, I do find it ironic and amazing both that the world’s leading kleptocratic capitalist paradises are not in America, but in the two former Communist/Socialist superpowers.

  22. nicho says:

    The Russian kleptocrats can lose $4 million in the sofa cushions on an afternoon.

  23. BeccaM says:

    They don’t care if we hear about it, because the release of that little factoid isn’t for us.

    It’s the Plutocrat Feeding Call. The way the 0.01% has of signaling each other, “Hey, there’s money to be plundered here!”

  24. BeccaM says:

    Nor a coincidence that as soon as Willard took over, millions of dollars in SLC Olympics business was redirected to companies which he co-owned.

  25. Indigo says:

    if you like

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  27. caphillprof says:

    It has been that since almost the inception.

    It wasn’t a mistake that Mitt Romney was involved in the Salt Lake winter olympics.

  28. LasloPratt says:

    I was gonna make a similar observation before I read your comment.

  29. Jimbo2K7 says:

    Isn’t it ironic that the ultimate ‘free’ market is in Russia.

  30. TheOriginalLiz says:

    The IOC is just another 1%er scam to bilk everyone else.

  31. The_Fixer says:

    The best way to help stop this madness from happening in the future is to not even watch any part of this on TV, and not buying sponsors’ products.

    It would be tempting to think that this debacle has a chance of putting a nail in the coffin of the Olympics, but as long as there’s some perceived benefit for the sponsors of this, another, worse one will likely take place in another four years.

    Kill the Olympics by not watching it, and by not buying the products sold by the sponsors. It’s a tremendous waste of money for which we pay through the costs of the products made by those sponsors.

    The more than 50 Billion Dollars spent on this craziness could do a lot of real good in the world. These shoddily constructed facilities will be abandoned right after the closing ceremonies of the Special Olympics while the criminals who profited will be free to live an extravagant life.

    Such a waste. And that doesn’t even touch the fact that gay people in Russia are being persecuted. Two very good reasons for not watching, and holding the IOC accountable. There are better venues for athletes to compete and show their talents to the world.

  32. sane37 says:

    How about “and”?

    One does not justify the other.

  33. Indigo says:

    Maybe so but the Utah Winter Olympics that Romney “rescued” didn’t exactly pass the smell test.

  34. Strepsi says:

    What is incredible to me is that the already almost incomprehensible $51 Billion is the public figure they have ALLOWED to be released! CBC reported $50 Billion, and I have seen other mainstream media report $55 — that’s already a loose slippage of $5 BILLION dollars. The actual cost must be more like $100 Billion.
    Kleptocracy is right, because the work was not even done!
    It’s worth linking to that post from Sochi again:

  35. Sean says:

    What a fiasco these games are. We have the hate campaign against gay people, the terror threat, and the world record corruption. Putin should indeed be tarred with all of these brushes. And what’s more, we need to direct our anger at the IOC, which has enabled him every step of the way.

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