The choice of Sochi, a Russian Black Sea resort town, to host the 2014 Winter Olympics is worrying European environmentalists who believe that politics trumped environmental concerns.
Sochi is thought to have spent 60 million euros ($80 million) to have won the bid to become the first Russian location to host the Winter Olympics. Russia will spend another 9 billion euros to build the needed infrastructure and sports facilities.
Russia launched wild celebrations after the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision was announced in Guatemala Wednesday.
Building something from nothing
But now reality has set in. Sochi organizers acknowledge they have a massive task ahead of them to turn the impoverished resort town into an Olympic hub in seven years.
The road from Sochi's seashore to the mountains is narrow and runs through an economically depressed area of small farms. By 2014 it will have a high-tech train line, new roads, ice arenas, sporting venues and everything else needed for the games.
Environmentalists say this transformation will threaten an already fragile ecosystem in the Caucus Mountains.
The Sochi Olympics will not be "green," said Thomas Tennhardt of the German Association for Nature Conservation (NABU.)
"Valuable nature is going to be irrevocably destroyed for 16 days of Winter Olympics," Tennhardt said Thursday. "Once again ecological interests are sacrificed for economics."
Sotschi is in the south of Russia. The area has relatively mild weather and in recent years has suffered from climate change. Building an Olympic infrastructure will further hurt the area's delicate ecological balance, Tennhardt said.
Andrej Petrow, head of Greenpeace in Russia, also criticized the plan to hold the Olympics so close to the Sochi National Park.
"Russia doesn't adhere to international agreements to protect the world's natural inheritance and yet the IOC still supports it," Petrow said.
Habitats for threatened plant and animal species will be destroyed to make way for luxury sports sites and spas, Petrow said. This goes against Russian environmental protection laws and goes against international agreements, Petrow said.
Russia's legacy to the world
Sochi beat out Korean Candidate Pyeongchang, viewed by many to be the IOC favorites, by 51 votes to 47.
Dmitri Chernyshenko, who headed the bid for the Russians, said it was time to begin the hard work of turning promises into reality. Chernyshenko said he was confident Sochi would meet all requirements and pledges.
"The government has to meet the critical needs of the IOC and we have to manage all the stakeholders such as the management and the investors," he said. "It will not just be a process of construction because winning these games will see the implementation of new laws and changes in Russian society."
Chernyshenko will fly to Switzerland Monday to visit IOC personnel.
"This concept is a great legacy for Russia and the world," he said. "We will succeed as we have now a very experienced team who had one single goal -- bringing the Olympic Games to Russia."
The decision was a major win for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was a primary champion of the campaign. Putin said the award recognized Russia's sports tradition and important place in the world.
"This is support from one of the most authoritative and independent international organizations -- the International Olympic Committee," he said.
The German press was critical of the decision. Many editorials pointed out that Sochi is not a traditional winter sports destination and that the decision was a major victory for Putin, who has recently clashed with Europe over decisions seen as anti-democratic.
The Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung called the award a "political failure." It comes at a time when Russia is on an anti-democratic course and the Olympics will serve as further propaganda, the newspaper said.
The IOC picked Moscow because of its enormous financial power, said an editorial in the Frankfurter Neue Presse. The newspaper was skeptical of Putin's promise to make sure the area's environment was protected. With his record of squelching public criticism, these promises "should not be trusted," the newspaper said.
Via: DW News