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  • Op Ed: IOC Needs Good Pilot for Sochi Olympics


    (ATR) If the road to the Sochi Olympics could be compared to the twists and turns of a bobsleigh track, the IOC should be glad it has an experienced pilot in the sled. There are some dangerous curves ahead.

    That was made clear this week at the end of the first meeting of the IOC Coordination Commission for Sochi 2014, when chair Jean-Claude Killy expressed confidence but also cautioned that these Games will be "the most challenging."

    He's referring mostly to the daunting construction program in the history of the Winter Olympics. More than $12 billion worth of venues, roads and other infrastructure is about to move from the drawing board to construction in this Black Sea resort. And with plans to have venues ready to test in competition by 2011-2012, the clock can be said to be ticking loudly: just four years remain to get it all done.

    Perhaps an understatement, Killy noted in his closing press conference that there is no time to waste.

    Yet environmental concerns could cause delays with the bobsleigh venue or other facilities that lie close to protected lands. Wrangling with government agencies or courts could cloud construction schedules.

    Another concern is the quick departure of the industrialist named last year to lead the construction side of the Sochi preparation. In a development reminiscent of the resignation of London 2012's construction czar two years ago, Semen Vainstock resigned this month after just six months into the job. He has not commented publicly about his decision to leave, but in London Jack Lemley issued sharp warnings about imprecise cost figures and worries about government interference as he left the chairmanship of the Olympic Development Authority in 2006.

    This week also turned the spotlight on residents of the coastal zone who will lose their homes when the site is converted to the Sochi Olympic Park

    Their resistance could challenge timely construction of the park; the police response to the group's protest has sparked brutality accusations. Whether the charges are fair, the incident shows the sort of tightrope Sochi organizers are walking between support for their massive plans and public scorn.

    There are also larger issues outside the hands of the organizing committee that will loom over preparations for the Games.

    Press freedom would be one. Media in Russia is a lively and growing industry; Russian journalists have been targets of violence and intimidation. And, while the circumstances may be different, the IOC could still find itself ensnared in the same messy controversies that have marked the run up to the Beijing Olympics.

    Russian foreign policy -- especially with Georgia, which lies on the border near Sochi -- will be watched in the run-up to the Games. Tensions between the two nations could become a source for concern about security for the region, not just for the Sochi Olympics.

    The interaction between the Olympics and giant state-owned companies such as Gazprom will be of interest as Sochi heads to 2014. As land owners and developers in the Sochi mountains, the investment of these firms is needed to help realize plans for the Games. Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas company, has made no secret of its interest in becoming a worldwide sponsor.

    But the team being assembled now in Sochi appears to have the confidence of the IOC.

    CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko is one of Russia's top sports business experts. He seems to have successfully made the transition from bid committee leader to OCOG chief. Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov, who piloted the bid through the Russian government, is another key player.

    Replacing Vainstock as head of the state company for the construction of Sochi venues is Viktor Koladyazhny, who was mayor of Sochi until a few weeks ago. Koladyazhny has a reputation for helping to guide the city's rise to prominence as an Olympic host.

    Then there's the man who is credited with tipping the vote of the IOC last year in favor of Sochi: outgoing President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Although he is stepping down, he will stay on in the new government as Prime Minister. That will allow him to keep his eye on his pet project of bringing the Olympics to Sochi.

    And not to suggest that Putin's influence is under any threat, but in politics as in business, fortunes can turn in an instant.

    That's why it's a good thing Jean-Claude Killy will be showing up in Russia on a regular basis for the next few years. Never has the IOC had the benefit of someone with a resume so perfectly suited for the job as coordination commission chairman.

    He was a leader of the Albertville organizing committee in 1992. He led the coordination commission for the Turin Olympics and was deputy chair of the Salt Lake City commission.

    And he has the experience of an athlete at the 1968 Games in his hometown of Grenoble.

    Op Ed is a weekly column of opinion and ideas from Around the Rings. Comments, as well as guest columns are welcomed: