The $51 billion cost of the Sochi Games, most expensive Winter Olympics in history, and alleged corruption are evidence of endemic problems.


Sochi Winter Olympics

The stadiums are all located along the coast overlooking the Black Sea

This is the biggest construction project since the fall of the Soviet Union, on a par with the trans-Siberian railway and Stalin’s Seven Sisters skyscrapers in Moscow.

To hold the Winter Olympics in a small resort town called Sochi was an unlikely dream of Vladimir Putin, and however challenging, that goal was fulfilled. But at what cost?

Last year Russian officials announced the preliminary cost of the Sochi Games was an astonishing £30bn – that’s more than all the previous winter Olympics combined.

Sochi Winter Olympics
Friendly volunteers are all over the city in their special uniforms

However, the final figures were never publicly announced.

For all the scandal and bad publicity surrounding the Sochi Games, actually being here as a participant, journalist or a spectator is quite nice.

All the stadiums are located along the coast overlooking the Black Sea with its beautiful sunsets and occasional palm trees.

Sochi itself is quite warm and green, the people are friendly but rarely speak English.

Sochi Winter Olympics
Competitors are generally happy with the athletes’ villages

The volunteers from across Russia are everywhere, wearing their special uniforms.

There is a network of public transport and an efficient railway connecting the two Olympic areas with the city of Sochi.

But if you are contemplating coming to Sochi for the Games, the biggest problem will be accommodation.

Hotel rooms are as difficult to find as gold, and as pricey. Travel websites such as are offering the Sea Urchin hostel with bunk beds as their only option.

Sochi Winter Olympics
In the distance are the mountains where the skiing events take place

Only six out of nine official media hotels have been completed in time.

CNN employees found themselves stranded, as only one of their 11 rooms was ready. When they confronted the President of Sochi’s Olympic organising committee, he said “to believe you just need to turn back and look at the mountains”.

Some hotels lack atriums, hot water, and even a roof.

Sochi Winter Olympics
The games are thought to have cost at least £30bn to stage

One journalist said he was woken by a fire alarm at 6am for two nights in a row only to find that the fire escape is actually closed.

However, for all the broken-English signs, hotel problems, traffic jams and heavy security, pre-Olympic Sochi is somewhat accommodating.

Competitors are mostly happy with the athlete villages and venues. The people are friendly and trying their best to make an impression.

Sochi Winter Olympics
A Stalin impersonator lights up his pipe for tourist photos

Even police officers are kinder and more open than usual in Russia.

While there are blasts of fireworks over the main stadium rehearsing the opening ceremony, there is still hope that Sochi Winter Games will be what they are meant to be – a festival of life, sport and peace.

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