16 August 2013, 14:21

Sochi Olympics: pride or pragmatism?

Олимпийский факел Сочи 2014 сочи-2014 огонь

John Kennedy observed once that a country’s prestige in the international arena can be measured in two ways: nuclear missiles and Olympic gold medals. However, not everyone in the contemporary world agrees with the 35th US president. Many Russian opposition activists and liberal intellectuals grumbled angrily that we did not need this burden even before Sochi was chosen to host the Winter Olympics of 2014. Chances are that the results of a public opinion poll carried out six months before the Olympic Games made them happy. According to the sociological centre Levada, 61% of Russians are proud to host the Olympic Games and 29% do not share these feelings. Last year the balance was 68 to 24.

According to the Levada centre and a number of other experts, Russian people’s attitude to the Olympics was affected by the anti-corruption campaign. When the Olympics were only criticized by the opposition most people did not care but when President Putin started talking about problems in this area and even sacked a few officials people came to the conclusion that problems really exist.

Publications in some media add fuel to the flames of criticism. The Economist comments that the Sochi Olympics could be likened to building castles on sand and mentions state projects of the Communist period when Soviet leaders turned Siberian rivers, built cities on permafrost and planted maize on virgin lands without giving a thought to the cost, profitability, the environment or human lives.

President of the Sochi-2014 Organising Committee Dmitry Chernyshenko says that they are tired of reassuring people of the costliness of the Sochi Olympics. President Putin also explained this issue in his traditional dialogue with Russian citizens. According to Chernyshenko, the construction and maintenance of the Olympic infrastructure costs about 200bln roubles. Over 50% of this money is provided by private investors. The Organising Committee is responsible for balancing the Olympic budget, for making expenses equal incomes. The budget of the Sochi Games parallels that of the previous Games in Vancouver in 2010 and in Turin in 2006 adjusted for inflation. As for extra-budgetary resources involved in the project, - sponsorship contracts, return on ticket sales and International Olympic Committee contributions reach $1.3bln.

Chernyshenko says that this serious project will undoubtedly eclipse the corruption scandal because positive results prevail. In this connection, as the Olympic Games are drawing near the positive background will build up. The Olympic Torch relay, the largest-scale one in the history of the Olympic movement, starts four months before the Games. The fire will traditionally be lit in Greek Olympia from where it will be delivered to Moscow on the 7th of October. The Torch will be carried through 2,900 communities over 123 days. The itinerary is 65,000km which is one and a half Equator length. The Olympic flame will be taken to many historical places in Russia, such as Leo Tolstoy’s family estate in Yasnaya Poliana, Kamchatka volcanoes and the museum of wooden architecture in Kizhi. The flame will also go down to the bottom of the world’s largest freshwater lake Baikal, go to the top of the highest European mountain Elbrus, reach the North Pole and be taken into space.

14,000 torches have been made for the relay, which equals the number of participants. The design of the torch is based on the shape of the Firebird’s feather from Russian folk tales. The Firebird brings good luck and fortune. Both adults and children know this image. The Torch will become the most recognizable and vivid one in the entire history of the Olympic Games because it combines folk traditions and high technology, which means the past and the future, President of the Organising Committee of the Sochi Olympics Dmitry Chernyshenko says.

The colours of the Torch are red and silver. This is not a random combination. Red has been a traditional colour in Russia since the 13th century and silver is the most popular colour for relay torches. Cold ice glittering in the sun is moderated with a warm flame.

The design of the Torch will withstand all whims of the Russian weather. The engineers promise that the flame will burn in a strong wind and snow, and even under water and in the thin air of mountain tops. The flame will be large and beautiful, brightly yellow in colour with a reddish-orange tint.

Torch carriers are being selected on a competitive basis all over the country. Not only these 14,000 lucky fellows but also volunteers and other participants in the project will be provided with a uniform developed with regard to different climatic conditions. The design of the uniform is based on the patchwork quilt which is immediately recognized as the image of the Russian Olympic team’s uniform.

The main mission of the Olympic Torch relay is to unite our huge country, to discover Russia anew for ourselves. In addition, the Sochi-2014 Organising Committee means to create an atmosphere during the Olympic Games that would make Russian sportsmen aware of the whole country’s support and help them win as many medals as possible, remembering Kennedy’s words.

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