Rumour has it that Vancouver and Whistler may need to step in for Sochi during the 2014 Olympics. The mere suggestion of hosting the Olympics twice in four years is being met with shudders by local residents.
AssociatedContent.com writes how the IOC may have to move the 2014 Sochi Olympics to another city for the first time in history or cancel them for the first time since WWII and Kootenay Mountain Culture Magazine reports that the Russian host city is having challenges in meetings its timelines and obligations.
A small group of American Circassians have come to Vancouver with a strong message to the world: “If you let the 2014 games go on as planned in Russia, you’ll be skiing on the graves of our oppressed ancestors.”
NoSochi2014.com claims that 2014 marks the 150th commemorative anniversary of the Circassian Genocide, when Russian armies killed 1.5 million people and drove out residents living between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains.
The alpine ski and snowboard events are proposed for Rosa Khutor, the Nordic events on Psekahko Ridge, and the alpine Olympic village at Krasnaya Polyana, an existing village in the valley. Krasnaya Polyana (named “The Red Hill” by the Russian troops for the amount of Circassian blood spilled) will be the centre of the 2014 Olympic Games.
The Russian government disputes the Circassians’ account of their history and Russians don’t speak about or acknowledge the genocide. The small diaspora of Circassians is asking for the Olympics to be moved to another location in Russia or elsewhere around the globe.
THE SOCHI-WHISTLER CONNECTION
The Sochi Olympic bid has a made-in-Whistler connection. The bid was developed by the Whistler firm, Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners. Ecosign has been designing ski resorts since 1976 and has designed facilities for four winter Olympic games and several alpine championship venues.
Sochi is a resort-spa and has been a place of rest since Czarist times, while Whistler hosts elites from the Pacific Northwest. Sochi is located on the shores of the Black Sea and experiences similar temperatures as Victoria, B.C. Like Vancouver and Whistler, one can sail and ski in one day in the Sochi area.
Sochi has the most expensive real estate in Russia and attracts Russia’s young elite, while Whistler and Vancouver boasts Canada’s most lucrative real estate prices.
Maria Sharapova, the world famous tennis player, grew up in Sochi and it’s no secret that Russian president Vladimir Putin loves to ski in the Caucasus Mountains.
DESTRUCTION OF A UNESCO HERITAGE SITE
During his 2007 IOC speech in Guatemala, President Putin told IOC officials that special emphasis would be placed on the environment. Ironically, the Sochi region faces an ecosystem habitat catastrophe.
Sochi’s venues would be built in the protective belt of the Caucasus Nature Reserve, which is part of a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reserve was established by the Soviet government in 1924 to preserve the 85 metre-high Nordmann Firs, believed to be the tallest trees in Europe and a unique English Yew-European Box forest.
Anyone who has followed the environmental destruction of Whistler’s forests and wetlands to host the “greenest games ever,” knows that the government’s promises contain little substance.
IOC REFORM NEEDED
As the world deals with the visible impacts of climate change, it seems that the Olympics have become the legitimate way to clear large tracts of protected land, for new resort development that would otherwise never receive approval.
Critics of the current Olympic games are pushing for games to be held in set locations to use existing facilities, rather than destroying important natural areas to host the Olympics in a new city every two years.
While organizers say Sochi construction on schedule, venue construction has been halted pending land ownership disputes and the games may not be going ahead as planned.
Once the world goes home in March, and Whistler and Vancouver residents clean up, I hope we don’t have to do it all again in 2014.