Sochi's world-class Olympic facilities face uncertain future
What to do with 7 top-notch arenas when athletes leave?
Sochi will soon have a Louis Vuitton store. And many of its inhabitants will continue to live without sewage and clean drinking water. This will be the city’s dichotomy of post-Olympic life.
After the flame is extinguished and the athletes have gone home, the Olympic Park will empty. The seven brand new facilities built on the coast alone will be largely dormant. And the Russian city may well take on the legacy of Athens after its 2004 Games.
In Greece, sites are in decay. The water has been drained from the canoe and kayak facility. The baseball diamond is overgrown. As many as 21 of the 22 venues are abandoned, the park is overgrown with weeds and closed to visitors. And the Greeks continue to pay off the debt.
Sochi is much smaller – the population of the area, including its suburbs, is less than 350,000. Half the size of Calgary when it hosted the Winter Games. Half of what Vancouver was – not including its suburbs.
So what do you do with world-class facilities for hockey, speed skating, figure skating and curling, and with Fisht Stadium, used only twice – for opening and closing ceremonies? Along with the mountain cluster, these cost a minimum of $3 billion to construct.
After the Games, Fisht will be used as a venue for Russian national football team matches and mass entertainment spectacles. Fisht has 40,000 seats, meaning one in nine Sochi residents would need to attend events to fill the stadium. Many cannot afford the cheap seats at Olympic sports, so it seems unlikely they’d suddenly find wealth for the events to come.
The Bolshoy Ice Dome, where hockey is played, is spectacular, with scores instantly displayed on its roof with thousands of coloured bulbs. It too will remain. But next door, the Shayba (also used for Olympic hockey) was designed to be dismantled and moved to another Russian city. Same thing for the Ice Cube curling centre.
London tried the temporary structure approach with some success. But the Russians have not indicated where the venues would be moved to, and there is persistent rumour that the facilities ultimately won’t go anywhere.
The vast Olympic plaza, on which the facilities sit, will play host in the fall to the Russian Grand Prix, the newest Formula One street circuit. That will help fill the 41,000 available hotel rooms – but only once a year.
Even more concerning are the mountain facilities. They are a natural and architectural spectacle, gorgeous vistas and comfortable alpine-theme accommodations. The aim will be to draw rich Russians from the resorts of the French and Austrian Alps to Krasnaya Polyana, the city created nearly from scratch high above Sochi. But the luxury at the European resorts is so well established that it will be a tough sell. And for the middle class, Sochi remains an expensive city to get to, even from within Russia.
Putin’s vision was to show the world that Russia can play on the international stage. To achieve that, he and his organizers went to any lengths before the Games to ensure success, obliterating any opposition, bulldozing existing farms and homes, and using migrant labour to excess.
What happens after the Games may see all that effort wasted. But by then, the spotlight will be off Sochi.