Russians exult over Winter Olympics
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SOCHI, Russia” Russians exulted at the prospect of the country’s first Olympics since 1980, and Vladimir Putin basked in what many called a major victory for the president at a time of growing criticism for his government.
Workers began cleaning up on Thursday after a late-night party in which thousands danced and sang following the vote to award the 2014 Winter Games to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Government officials and business leaders, meanwhile, began planning for the development of the region that has long been a playground for Russia’s elite.
Putin’s government has pledged $12 billion to turn Sochi from a worn-out resort of traffic jams, ramshackle Soviet-era hotels and aging villas formerly owned by metallurgical factories and even Soviet dictator Josef Stalin into a world-class winter sports complex.
And in Russia ” where the line between private and public money is often blurred ” some of the country’s largest corporations have been pouring money for some time into the areas around Krasnaya Polyana, the area’s best known ski resort, and elsewhere.
Against the backdrop of growing tensions between the West and Russia, the International Olympic Committee’s decision to award Sochi the games was a clear victory for Putin, who is constitutionally barred from standing for a third term after next March.
“It’s much more important for (Putin) from a political point of view because at the final stage of his second term it will be possible for him to show everybody including Russians, first of all, a kind of recognition of his and Russia’s achievements during his rule,” said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with Moscow Carnegie Center.
Some Russian lawmakers imparted a political element to the decision.
“This fight among nations also has a political resonance. This is proof that the world is not unipolar. There are forces that support Russia. Russia will again become a world leader,” said Boris Gryzlov, speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament.
Putin said the vote was recognition of Russia’s long sports tradition as well as its growing economic and cultural clout.
“This is support from one of the most authoritative and independent international organizations ” the International Olympic Committee,” he said in televised comments upon arriving back in Russia from Guatemala, where the decision was announced.
He also said that developing Sochi for the Olympics would benefit all of southern Russia, a vast and impoverished region that includes the troubled North Caucasus where Chechnya is located.
“It will serve (as) a powerful stimulus to develop southern Russia,” he said. “I am fully convinced that we will be able to conduct the Olympics at the very highest level.”
The announcement came too late for Russian newspapers, but dominated state-run television throughout the day. Footage ” broadcast over and over ” showed exuberant Russian officials and athletes dancing and singing and celebrating in Guatemala and Sochi.
“It’s a proud moment for Russia, and I’m sure it’s a proud moment for him,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, referring to Putin. But, he said, it does not change U.S. “concerns about the direction of democracy-related issues,” including “respect for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and to be able to peaceably organize opposition democratic parties.”
Russia hosted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow but has never held a Winter Olympics.
Two previous attempts by Sochi failed. A bid for the 1998 Games was withdrawn amid the economic deterioration during the last months of the Soviet Union’s existence. In 2002, its bid didn’t make the final round because of concerns about the almost total absence of facilities.
Sochi still must build nearly every venue. But this time, bid promoters pushed that as an asset, saying the construction would mean the Olympics would get its most modern games.
Still, the IOC’s evaluation report suggested Russia clearly would have work to do: “Construction would have to be tightly monitored in order to ensure timely delivery of the games.”
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