In 203 days -- about six and a half months from now -- the 22nd Winter Olympics will kick off in Sochi, Russia. The mascots (less insane than cute this time) have been selected. The curling qualification heats have been scheduled. This thing is on.
Ordinarily, I wouldn't be thinking much about the Winter Olympics six months out. (All told, I wouldn't ordinarily be thinking much about the Winter Olympics six days out.) But this time is different because, for the first time in my life, I'm going to the Olympics. Because I have no idea what I'm in for, I've been doing a little research, about the Olympics, about the setup, about Sochi in general. And I gotta tell you: I'm worried. You probably should be too.
The Economist checked in on how preparations for the Sochi Olympics are progressing, and the best way to describe that progression is "at a rate of a billion dollars every week or so." Remember the Beijing Olympics? China spent $43 billion -- which is roughly 29 Yankee Stadiums -- and you could see every penny. (Those opening ceremonies were a massive special effect that happened to be real.) Well, Sochi is costing more than that -- about $50 billion, according to The Economist. I'm not sure you're going to see every penny.
As The Economist explained, the initial Russian bid was $12 billion, which was already the most expensive Winter Olympics in history. But that was a crazy silly estimate: As it turned out, simply one of the roads they're building is going to cost $9 billion. One of the main reasons it's turning out to be so expensive is because many of the construction "companies" in charge are run by pals of President Putin. A line in the story about this almost sounds like a Yakov Smirnoff joke: "In Russia corruption is not a side-effect: It is a product almost as important as the sporting event itself." (In Russia, corporations construct you!) The cost of these games is more than the GDP of Slovenia, Uruguay, Iceland, Paraguay and Lithuania. And the money, according to the story, isn't going to the workers: "Low-skilled migrants get $500 a month, working 12-hour shifts with no contracts, safety training or insurance." Last year, the story says, 25 people died during construction.
Putin's friends' companies are also not good at, well, construction: The ski jump, for example, has already "been redone several times," and sewage pipes keep bursting, leaving some lingering, oh, unpleasantness. There are constant environmental issues. Everything keeps breaking.
But there are other issues too, inherent in having the games in Sochi in the first place. First off: There is no snow. As the writer of the story puts it in an accompanying video, "it is not easy to find areas in Russia that don't have snow. Putin has somehow found one." Sochi is a resort area of Russia where Putin spends many of his own vacations, which apparently is enough? (Russia is at the point where it's winning Olympic bids based on where its President likes to ride horses shirtless. Makes sense.) It's the one area of Russia that is rarely freezing. Every time it snows in Sochi, they save a bunch of the snow, just in case.
Also! It's right next to north Caucasus, "a predominantly Muslim part of Russia that has been immersed in a bloody civil conflict for two decades."
Also! "The opening and closing ceremonies will be held close to the Black Sea on swampy ground, once infested by malarial mosquitoes."
(I'm going to punch the guy who sent me this story.)
Listen, you hear about this every Olympic Games, about how behind schedule they are, how much more money they cost than everyone was expecting. In Greece no one really started revving up preparations until it was almost too late. In China they were still trying to fire lasers into clouds to control the weather just months before the opening ceremonies. Salt Lake City would have been a disaster had Mitt Romney not shown up and, well, did whatever it is he did. Olympics are huge endeavors to put together. People always fret about the Olympics months before they begin, and they tend to work themselves out.
But this one looks particularly scary, doesn't it? Or do I just think this because I'm going this time and keep having this fear that I'm going to standing in an empty field where snow is supposed to be, covered in sewage, trying to help an injured laborer get his final paycheck before we're both taken for ransom by neighbor warring factions? It might be that.
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