The Olympic Games put the host city under a microscope for the world to closely observe. The 2014 Winter Olympics is no exception, and Sochi, Russia has already had its share of harsh criticisms. Besides the obvious political strains and controversies, Russia also has to answer to environmentalists who question the ecological impacts of the Games. The final bill surpassed $50 billion, the most expensive Olympic Games of all time, and Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to use these games to advance the image of his country. But an important question to consider is whether any of this money was put into preserving the unique nature of the region? With closer examination, it becomes clear Russia has taken steps to improve the outward appearance of environmental protectionism, but behind the Iron Curtain, the situation may not be so green for their citizens.
Upon winning the bid to host the Winter Olympics, Russia established environmental standards they promised to abide by. Called the Green Standard, it prohibited the use of certain materials is the construction of the Olympic facilities in Sochi. During the construction, a system of LEED standards was adopted. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is used to rate green building infrastructure. This means that environmental friendly materials were used in the construction, and purchased goods were approved in advance in accordance with environmental requirements in respect to energy consumption equipment (Sochi 2014- Green Standards). The Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee ensured that harmful emissions were minimized, and companies carrying out construction met international standards for protecting the environment. Even the air and water in Sochi has become cleaner since December 2007 when Sochi won the bid to hold the Games.
But, not everyone agrees with the idea that the Olympics have made a positive environmental impact on Russia. For example, residents of one nearby village are now living in a newly established rock quarry. They say their homes are uninhabitable now because a thick layer of dust has settled over the town. A nearby ravine is now full of trash after it was used as a dump site by construction workers, and wells have begun to dry up. In other areas, there has been widespread flooding after construction crews filled in wetland areas. Toxic runoff from illegal landfills threatens Sochi’s drinking water, and environmental activists who have spoken out against the construction find themselves harassed by the government (Sochi Double Standards). According to Reuters, Irana Vorochkova’s house, which is located near the Olympic city collapsed and was swept away by a landslide. The 58-year-old housewife is now forced to live in a metal shack by the ruins of her home as she is attempts to take the construction company to court (Reuters).
Some ecologists say the damage is only the beginning and that construction may have put the region in the path of potential ecological disasters, including poisoned drinking water and flooding. Because the host country is put on the world stage, the Olympics can often be used as a time to hold a country accountable for its shortcomings. As we enjoy the competitions and amazing spectacles of human strength and endurance, it is important to remember how the Games are affecting the citizens of Sochi. When the 2014 Winter Olympics are all said and done, the medals have been won, and the anthems have been played, will Sochi be left in desolation, or will Russia be held accountable for their actions?