Sochi Olympics Official: We Realized Hotel Problems ‘Too Late’
The International Olympic Committee’s chief coordinator for the?Sochi Games?said Monday the organization sounded a “red alert” in September because delays in hotel construction were posing a serious threat to the event.
In an interview, Jean-Claude Killy, the IOC’s chief supervisor of the?2014 Olympics, offered the first public explanation for the rocky launch of these Games. Early arrivals here encountered unfinished hotels, unopened shops and myriad problems.
Killy, who won three Olympic gold medals skiing for France, said that despite making 40 trips to Sochi in the seven years leading up to the Games, he didn’t understand the depth of the problem until last fall.
“We realized it too late,” said Killy. Focused on getting the sports venues done, he added, private developers and oligarchs devoted less attention to hotel projects.
“All the alarms went up in September,” Killy said. “I made a special trip. I said, ‘What do we need to do?’ There is no way to organize a Games if you cannot accommodate people.”
Killy said he declared a “red alert,” which required expanding a workforce that he said ultimately totaled 100,000 people working around the clock, seven days a week. The schedule, Killy said, cost organizers what was likely millions of dollars in additional pay.
Killy said a key to addressing problems was his access to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who IOC officials say provided unprecedented access for a head of state.
“We always had the capacity to go to the top man,” said Killy, who met Putin over dinner in Guatemala City in 2007. “When you become friends with this guy and ask for something and you see it within two hours, that’s very impressive.”
Russia landed the Games after an appearance by Putin at the IOC meetings in Guatemala City. The decision represented the IOC’s biggest gamble in modern times, according to Michael Payne, the former director of marketing for the IOC. The organization is making a similar bet on the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Killy said these risks are necessary because the IOC has an obligation to spread its values of fair play and friendship through sports to the developing world, and to create opportunities for sports participation through the construction of world-class venues. Russia, he said, was a winter-sports nation but had little sports infrastructure.
“That is sad,” he said.
Going into the project, Killy?the IOC’s chief coordinator for the 2006 Turin Games?knew little about this city where people can swim in the sea and ski the nearby mountains on the same day. He felt good about the project because Russia had good people working on it: “foreign-educated, people from Harvard, Stanford, KGB.”
Two months after the vote, Killy packed warm clothes and a heavy coat for a trip to Sochi but wound up sweating heavily throughout a news conference. At the time, the area in Adler where the Olympic Park now stands was a swamp. There was no ski resort and little in the way of facilities in the Caucasus Mountains in Rosa Khutor.
Sochi needed to build 22,000 hotel rooms, a new highway 30 miles into the mountains and a train line that would run beside it. The bill would eventually rise to more than $50 billion, even though organizers altered plans as construction was under way and saved money, such as deciding against building a second train line to the mountains.
Click here to read more.