Society Magazine

The True Cost of the Olympics in Middle-Income Countries

By Callumgg @callumgg

OK, so I’m going to be talking about the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but all’s fair when the title is already a bit long. People often call investment in Olympic events a waste of money, something seen across all countries – from London to Athens. This is a fair call to make when these events are simply one-off, and the infrastructure built is used once and twice maybe.

Photo via Raul Pacheco-Vega

Photo of Sochi terrain model from

Would it be fair to say the same thing of the Sochi Olympics when there is a lot of talk that Sochi will become a major resort? Spending the money now, rather than later, on infrastructure, is a good idea. It is clear that Russia is woefully underdeveloped, and it would take a lot of money to bring it up to date. When there are areas that Russia wants to showcase, it will spend the money in the interests of long-term use, which is why poorer countries can sometimes pay more for these big events.

However, through the eyes of a well-developed and richer country, this can be confusing. Some of the reporting, which is often more than secondhand, on Sochi, is misleading. For example (from The Guardian):

One should also have sedatives close to hand while reviewing the figures. Russia has become one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and is barely making an effort to hide it. For instance, one of the Sochi 2014 Olympic projects – a 50 km road – costs nearly $8bn

This specific road being a supposed example of corruption in building for the Olympics, has been debunked (which is silly because it’s not actually hard to find examples of corruption in Russia):

The only problem with looking at Russia through this failed state prism, without bothering to corroborate sources, is that in no sense can the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana route be described as just a “roadway”. Intended to be completed within 3 years in an area with a poorly developed infrastructure, this so-called “road” also includes a high-speed railway, more than 50 bridges, and 27km of tunnels over mountainous, ecologically-fragile terrain!

In places like Vancouver or the US, infrastructure and development are already present, if a country like Russia wants to showcase a remote city in a country with crumbling and poorly maintained infrastructure, they’re going to have to spend more.

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