The upcoming 2014 Winter Games in Sochi is now estimated to have cost more than $50 billion, a price tag higher than the last 21 Winter Games combined and more expensive than any Summer Games ever held. (The fact that Russia, a country associated with arctic temperatures, would hold an ice-and-snow competition in its warmest climate was a bit of an early giveaway of future book-cooking.)
Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute recently wondered if Sochi could “become Russia’s moment of truth, prompting national soul-searching and spurring the movement for democratization?” Aron compared Sochi to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, a travesty of fallen bridges and “uninhabitable” athletic villages which rippled into a wave of successful anti-corruption politics and the election of a new opposition party in four Indian states. Even if Russia doesn’t have an equally free and fair electoral system, the domestic backlash from a major international humiliation must loom large in Putin’s mind. After all, what if some poorly erected arena or housing complex, built at great public expense to enrich one of Putin’s friends, and deemed unfit for purpose by an ignored government body, collapses under the weight of never-before-seen crowds? Even a power outage, of which there have been many in Sochi already, could see the lights go off in the middle of a slalom or double-axel. In that event, only one man will be held accountable — and it’ll all have been his own fault.