Comment: From Russia With Love

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From Russia With Love' is the unabashed intention of the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games, writes Mickey Charles, president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network. Without question, as has been stated repeatedly, this is the biggest athletic stage in the world and dwarfs all else, from NFL Super Bowl to the FIFA World Cup.

The Olympics are not just another gathering of athletes where political intrigues and posturing play as important a role as a determination of who mounts the podium, sees their flag raised above the others and lip–synchs to the words of his or her national anthem. Hardly. The Olympics of today, of recent vintage, are appropriately 'show time' with the curtain being raised on an extravaganza that starts with planning, spending hundreds of millions without a realistic approach at ROI (return on investment) and dreams that all too often convert to nightmares. An opening ceremony worthy of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jerry Bruckheimer and Steven Spielberg coordinating an ill–begotten hope for what all this will do for the host country post Olympics. On the surface, as has been repeatedly stated by yours truly in prior MEI columns, the Games are intended to bring long–term positive social and economic changes with them. They do not. There is no arguing that. Oh yes, they appear to do so when the wheels start to turn but they come to a crashing conclusion and hasty stop when the closing ceremonies are done, the curtain is rung down, everyone goes home and the venues are deserted. There is no questioning that new and improved modes of travel remain, housing is there for alternative uses, cleanliness has come to certain neighbourhoods and a semblance of vitality courses through the populace within the relatively immediate vicinity of the Games. But this is not enough!Portraying the Games as a project of national value long term, with emphasis on that, long–term, is erroneous. Some exceptions are Barcelona, where the industrial centre has become a targeted tourist destination but, on the other hand, it was always a great city to visit. Beijing was a showcase for what China could do to a point. The post–Olympics situation has become a debacle. Sochi, awarded the 2014 Winter Games for Russia, will focused on outdoing China. How many of you ever heard of Sochi before the bidding process? You translated Sochi to Russia and that is understandable but Sochi? Be serious. Have you even bothered to find out? Are you making plans now to reserve accommodation, air travel, putting monies aside? This is the Krasnodar Region. Forget about not knowing that until now – spell it without looking and you are a bit ahead of the rest of the world. Is that the criteria? Of course not. You and I both know that. But the point has to be made about the venue. They will do all they can to create new standards in ecology, strategy, government, surroundings, transportation, tourist attractions, safety (this is still Russia), language barriers, costs, capabilities to fulfil their promises and plans. All of Russia will be watching since this Olympics will make a statement for the entire country and give notice to the world of their, Russia's, place in it between now and then and beyond. They are not, so it seems, the Russia of old. Maybe. That Communist mantle has passed to China and the Russia of today is toying with a democratic overview and attitude. The Olympics will set the stage, literally and figuratively, for what lies ahead maybe. For what is, maybe. For what else they wish to portray to us. Maybe. 'From Russia with love' is the theme that will be in the forefront and Sochi wants to be discovered as a hospitable city, one that opens it arms and hearts to visitors, especially those with disabilities, focusing on the Paralympic Winter games. However, the world at large will be focusing on all else. Sad, but true. Valiant effort, one to be applauded, yet muted by surrounding, like hollering in the midst of a forest where the trees absorb the sound, touch the clouds and attract the attention. How to define ultra modern sports venues of an international standard, as if they have never been done before? They have and, with rare exceptions, still sit gathering dust. What Sochi intends to do is create a new international sports centre with modern infrastructures that will include an international airport, hotels, business centres and concert halls. Admirable. Is it on your list post–Olympics yet? I think not. Southern Russia is using the 2014 Olympic Games to recreate the entire region. Kudos to them. New roads, an electric railway system between Krasnaya Polyana and Imeretinskaya Valley, intended to rejuvenate the coastline area. Major upgrades in telecommunications, installations of digital TV and fibre optic communications, more modern hotels. Impressive and easier airline connections to Milan, Venice, Amsterdam, Rome, Barcelona, London, Paris, New York, Chicago and Washington, among others. Booking yet? Plan to? It is not a matter of being a sceptic, just a realist. The fact that there will be a planned Russian International Olympic University in Sochi, opening in 2012, as the intended key centre for training a new generation of high–qualified sports managers in Russia will not have other countries rushing to their doors to enrol. And, other countries will not send coaches here despite what will be proposed as the most contemporary techniques, developed via studies of worldwide practices using the most advanced methods of athletic training. Sochi will call upon 25, 000 plus volunteers to prepare for the 2014 Games and it will be an amazing adventure for one and all. The key question, as always, is what happens next, when everyone has gone home, all the visitors and athletes have returned to their own countries? The goal of becoming one of the main business and economic centres of the world, to rival New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, Rome, even Moscow or Beijing, is a bit over–reaching. Admirable but not realistic. At the end of the Games Sochi will likely not become the proposed Mecca of tourism and finance. A destination for some curious tourists that could not attend the Games? Yes. One, just one, ill–fated or negative incident and it will be blown out of proportion to destroy what vestiges of these plans may remain when all is said and done and the athletes and attendees have departed. Expectancies, plans, projections, predictions are running high. And so it should be. But, the image of the Iron Curtain and Russia, as the rest of us have come to know both, still lurks. It remains the Soviet Union and the West. That will be a steep hill to climb. The 2014 Winter Olympics will be superb. I have every confidence of that. It will likely outdo the presentation by Beijing as a competitive offering. The venue will be fantastic. The people affable and accommodating. The area first class by world standards. The details covered in finite planning and with incredible attentiveness. What it will do for Russia at the time of the Games will be a superb public relations effort and people will ask, 'Sochi, what the heck is a Sochi? Where is it? How did they get the Games? ? ' The answers will be in the offering for this is, after all, Russia. Sochi will be identified with an as yet to be determined product, event, happening, even a drink. I'll have a Sochi!It rolls off the tongue. But, one of the renowned tourist destinations on the planet after the Games? The jury is not out – it has not yet even been formed. Ask Vancouver, a much better known destination than Sochi has ever been. The Game there helped the government but not private sources. Some facts to awaken all taxpayers in Vancouver are on the hook for $1bn as most Olympic Village condo units remain unsold. The Olympic Village is a ghost town. The homeless abound and small tent cities have emerged, low income remains low income and promises made were no more than public relations puffery and extravagant promises never realised. The number of homeless people actually increased. Promises broken? No one would be made homeless as a result of the Olympics. Nonsense. We are supposed to learn from history. We do not. Tourism did get a boost for Vancouver but the final tallies have not been made yet. Certainly not what was anticipated. It might be years before the Olympics ledger is balanced but it will not be a favourable result. All who believe that might be wrong but it is doubtful unless the books are 'fudged' and figures misplaced. There will be good, there always is, but the projections are hardly ever translated into reality. Promises, promises, promises. It is good to have the Olympics, to be the host city. But will it be good to have had them in the long run? We shall see. For now, however, they come to us From Russia With Love. About Mickey CharlesMickey Charles is president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US. For further information about The Sports Network, visit: www. sportsnetwork. com. The Sports Network2200 Byberry RdHatboro, PA 19040 Tel: +1 (215) 441–8444 Fax: +1 (215) 441–5767

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