The plane home from the Winter Olympics arcs out over the coast of Sochi,
framed by snow-covered mountains on a cloudless, 15-degree day, I guess
those characteristics alone meant these Games were always going to be
Add, for good measure, a winter sports powerhouse hosting a winter Games for
the first time and set against global and regional political fragilities,
including a bordering country in meltdown, and you can comfortably add the
Yet gauged through the organisational optics, as I now view the Olympic world,
these have been an outstanding Games. Of course, there is little sign that
any expense has been spared, particularly on behalf of the athletes, who
should always remain the primary client group. The venues were jaw-dropping
– the ice hockey venue, for instance, had a changing room for every one of
the competing teams – and the transportation system below the rink resembled
a three-lane highway. The athlete villages were among the best ever. The
athletes and the support staff of Team GB were effusive in their praise.
But what did we expect for £30, 40 or even 50 billion – the numbers escalate
by the day – claim the prosecution? And here, I feel myself being carted
back to the future. A Groundhog Day of a discussion – all very reminiscent
of settling the budget for the London Games. There are, of course, two
distinct budgets in the delivery of a Games, the operational and the
infrastructural. The first is the responsibility of the organising committee
and is the incremental accretion through broadcast, sponsorship and
The second covers the cost of the venues, and the supporting infrastructure,
which at these Games has meant the creation of a number of winter resorts
complete with hotels, roads, rails, bridges and cable cars. Unlike the
operational budget, this is a cost borne by the taxpayer.
Never before has a Games been delivered in such virgin territory. All this has
been achieved, unlike London, without the drag-anchor of planning restraint.
But, like east London, it leaves a forever altered landscape, and one where
judgment about sustainability after the show has left town can only properly
be made over the coming decade. I believe the single biggest determinant of
success will be the need for direct flights from Europe’s largest population
centres. Does not this kind of investment in a region make it difficult for
future bidding cities to match? Well yes, if every city wanting to stage a
Games, followed the same model without the facility vacuum. But there is no
one-size-fits-all template here.
The International Olympic Committee will be equally happy to award the Games
to a mature winter sports environment where there is no need to create the
same regional infrastructure, as was evident here.
The cost of the Games in Sochi can never be aggregated into every metre of
road, rail, hotel or brick and mortar of a sports venue they have never had,
nor should the IOC always act as an inhibitor of city or regional ambition.
The Olympic Games should move the dial both economically and socially and yes
– with caution – even politically. The Games in Sochi have done all that
even if some of the scrutiny has been uncomfortable for the host nation.
International sport, in my experience, has never been an inhibitor of
political and social change.
Would Stephen Fry, let alone the world, be debating gay rights in Russia had
they not shone a spotlight on the issue for sport. Sport should never be in
the dock on occasions like this, but should be recognised as the most
effective of game-changers.
The Sochi Games have also been a game-changer for Team GB and winter sports.
More of us than ever before have tuned into a Winter Games, more newspaper
inches, web pages and social media, both good and poisonous in Elise
Christie’s case, have been devoted to Team GB. Our curlers were followed
stone after agonising stone, Lizzy Yarnold flew back to the Jonathan Ross
Show and our gifted and wonderfully anarchic freestyle and slope-stylers
captured the imagination of a new generation.
If we ever needed reaffirmation that the longest and the most consistent
sponsor any Olympian has is their parents, it lay in the emotional reunion
of Jenny Jones and her parents after she won Team GB’s first ever medal on
The potential for growth of these disciplines is unprecedented and has to be
grabbed. I was even party to a conversation with two IOC members about the
possibility of curling rinks in Morocco and Kenya. I am still trying to
picture our performance directors in that sport grappling with the
challenges of altitude training. It is a brave new world for our winter
sportsmen and women.
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