x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia will be expensive and 'soul-sapping'

Time is of the essence as Russia prepares for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

Staging a major sporting event usually involves great risks and, for the lucky few, even greater rewards.

History tells us that the London Olympic Games will be remembered as one of the great sporting carnivals of all time. Perhaps even the greatest. And yet, if one casts one's mind back to a year before the Games began, England's capital was drowning in problems, including a ticketing "fiasco" that saw most applicants left empty-handed.

"Why," wrote Martin Samuels in the Daily Mail, "in this country, do we have to turn even the simplest exercise into a study in soul-sapping tension?". The Financial Times, meanwhile, criticised the "huge costs" associated with staging the Games in a nation bogged down by the global financial crisis.

These were hardly lone voices. The chorus of criticism that surrounded London 2012 only really stopped when Danny Boyle delivered his show-stopping opening ceremony and everyone forgot what all the fuss was about in the first place. A record-breaking glut of gold medals for the host nation didn't do any harm in that respect either.

Delhi, which staged the Commonwealth Games in 2010, underwent a similar period of self-doubt in the run-up to its own moment in the spotlight. Indeed, two days before the Games opened in October of that year, Samanth Subramanian wrote in The National that to have lived through the preparations for the Games had been "to stagger under the constant reminders of serious systemic problems in India". While rarely scaling the heights of London, the Delhi Games did, however, also pass off without any great incident.

Now it is Russia's turn to feel the heat (or rather the chilly winds of criticism) a year before the coastal city of Sochi hosts the fortnight-long XXII Olympic Winter Games in February 2014.

Sochi is many things: the Black Sea laps its promenade, its unusually temperate climate once ensured it was the favoured summer resort of Joseph Stalin and, in recent years, it has found fame for being the place where Maria Sharapova learnt to play tennis. Staging the Winter Olympics has, however, required the city to undergo a costly upgrade. The final bill is expected to exceed US$50 billion (Dh183.64bn), which will make the Sochi spectacular more costly than the 2008 summer games in Beijing.

Last week Vladimir Putin toured Sochi's two "clusters" of venues - the Games have been dubbed the "most compact" Winter Olympics ever and visitors will be able to move from the coastal Olympic Park to the surrounding mountains in a matter of minutes, thanks to a high-speed rail link - and the Russian president was not impressed.

Putin was pictured looking stony-faced in front of the mountain cluster's two incomplete ski jumps whose costs have spiralled out of control and whose hand-over date has been repeatedly pushed back.

The RusSki Gorki Jumping Center, as it is officially known, is emblematic of Sochi's delivery problems, but does not tell the whole story: at least three-quarters of all the work required to stage the Games has been completed. The rest will, most likely, all get done too.

Time is also at the heart of another matter vexing Russian officials. Sochi sits in the same time zone as the UAE, placing the city fully three hours ahead of Central European Time during the winter months and into the realms of unfriendly TV schedules. This should not matter greatly except that Sochi needs to recoup whatever costs it can.

The country and the host city currently has two choices to connect with a larger TV audience and reap greater commercial rewards: stage events at later local times (thereby risking the wrath of domestic viewers) or reintroduce daylight saving (abandoned less than two years ago) and push the clock into more favourable territory.

How Sochi solves this conundrum will be fascinating to watch. Regardless, time waits for no man, not even Vladimir Putin.

* Nick March