The preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi in Russia have been overshadowed by threats to security and a change at the head of the construction company. A suicide bomb at Moscow Domodedovo airport left 35 dead and many more injured and Taimuraz Bolloev the head of the construction arm of the games Olympstroy, has resigned on the grounds of ‘ill health'.
The International Olympic Committee have been quick to say that they have every confidence that the Russian authorities who are responsible for security are up to the task whilst confirming that it is "a top priority". The Russian authorities themselves have announced a record breaking security budget of 58 billion roubles or about 2 billion dollars to cover the Winter Olympics and the Para Olympics that take place shortly afterwards. They stress that particular care has been taken to provide a secure environment in the planning of the various facilities. The sensitivity of all concerned is all the more understandable as this is the second serous attack in six months on public transport. It is to be hoped that the political atmosphere at the root of the problem in the Russian Caucasus, close to Sochi will be better in 2014 than it is at the moment.
Despite the latest construction hiccup there is every indication that the work is on schedule. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dimitri Kozak commented on the departure of the head of Bolloev, saying "There were no facts presented concerning abuse or corruption at SC Olympstroy or any other authority or body". An indication of the importance of the post is his immediate replacement by Sergey Gaplikov, Deputy to the chief of staff of the Russian government.
The construction project is huge and the investment of 1O billion euros is the biggest investment by any state to date in the Winter Olympics. However it is as much a long term investment in Sochi and the Black Sea region by the Russian government as in the games themselves. Everything from a brand new sewage works, a modern power supply system, a new airport and an upgraded 1500 kilmetre high speed rail link has been provided for.
The Olympic site is in two parts or clusters 50 kilometres apart, to be linked by a new light railway; the journey will take half an hour. The ice skating facilities, including two ice hockey rinks, speed skating, a short track stadium, and a curling rink, along with the Olympic Stadium will be in Sochi by the Black Sea. The skiing, snowboarding, bobsleighing, and ski jumping events will all be up in the mountains at Krasnaya Polyana.
An artificial island for offices and hotels is under construction in the harbour to be built in the shape of the Russian Federation. A new offshore docking facility will take cruise ships with up to 3000 passengers. The local airport has a new terminal and the runway is to be extended to 3.5 kilometres. At the moment the work is going according to schedule.
As well as the security risks emphasised by the airport bombing there is agitation by Circassian groups. Sochi is the in the region once inhabited by the Circassian people who were largely expelled into the nearby Ottoman Empire after a bloody war in the 19thCentury. 2014 Winter Games falls precisely on the 150th anniversary of the final chapter of that sad event. According to Circassian nationalist groups the ‘Red Hill'site of the snow boarding and skiing was the scene of the last stand of the native peoples'. So far opposition has been limited to demanding some sort of cultural recognition as was granted to native peoples in Australia, United States and Canada in 2000, 2002 and 2010 respectivley.
As far as possible new events are concerned the IOC executive board has delegated to its President final authority as to what will be included. Sports under consideration are team figure skating, a mixed relay biathlon, Ski half pipe, Ski slopestyle, Snow board slope style, a team relay luge event and Women's ski jumping. So far it has been decided not to include an alpine team skiing event, Ski mountaineering, Ski orienteering and a Winter triathlon.
It is possible that the ancient form of ice hockey known as Bandy may be included at the request of the International skating federation. It is known that the IOC chairman Jacques Rogge is impressed by this 11 a side game that is played to similar rules as football or field hockey on ice. There are records of a form of the sport being played in Russia in the 10th and 11th centuries in monastries. In a more modern form it was played in the early 17th century. It is included in the Asian Winter Olympics this year at Medeo in Kazakhstan.
The next Winter Olympic games are to be held for the first time in Russia from February 7th-23rd 2014.