Russian Olympics faces hairier hurdle

Mountain goats might upset Russian plans to make the Sochi 2014 Winter Games the greenest Olympics yet...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Olympics organisers are used to facing opposition. Whether it’s human rights activists disrupting the Chinese games, or the bean counters concerned at the spiralling cost of London 2012, a bit of competition is all part and parcel of the Games - and not just for the athletes.

But the rich Russians looking to redevelop the Black Sea resort of Sochi ready for the 2014 Winter Olympics are facing a new test – the resort borders a national park that’s home to 6,000 types of flora and fauna, including 100 endangered species. Perhaps not surprisingly, the environmental lobby isn’t too keen to see their existence threatened for the sake of skiing, skating and jumping about in the snow.

Billed as one of the world’s last untouched eco-systems, the area next to the Olympic development is a Unesco World Heritage site, home to such endangered species as the West Caucasian chamois mountain goat. The Olympic village next door, meanwhile, is set to house 2,000 athletes and hangers-on, with a bobsled venue seating 11,000.

The greenies are arguing that it shouldn’t be built along the protected buffer zone.
Facing off in the other corner, Russia’s powerful developers and oligarchs are under starters’ orders, ready for the signal to begin building the first quality winter resort in the Caucasus mountains - they're billing the Sochi Games as a $15bn boost to Russia’s economy.

Construction has yet to begin, but President Putin has announced the availability of $12bn in private and public money for local development. Gazprom is updating roads round the ski resort, and Interros, a conglomerate run by Vladimir Potanin (another of Russia’s heavyweight billionaires) is building an eco-friendly resort to host the Alpine skiing and snowboarding. The green claims are big ones, especially given the nature of the construction site. And if there’s any hypocrisy, it won’t just be the chamois that get in a leather.

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