Mistakes of Sochi-2014


WWF has been constructively engaged with major worldwide sporting events, and in particular, the Olympic movement for nearly two decades, following the International Olympic Committee’s adoption of ‘environment’ as one of the three ‘pillars of Olympism’ in 1994. Following significant concerns around the ecological impact, poor sustainability integration and inadequate legacy planning of the Athens Games in 2004, WWF has welcomed, and been actively involved with, the progress of successive Olympic Games from Torino 2006, though Beijing 200 and Vancouver 2010 to London 2012. These sporting mega events have been increasingly mitigating the impact of the event on local environments and natural resources whilst seeking to maximize sustainability benefits through a legacy of sustainable buildings, infrastructure and the active engagement of businesses and spectators.

WWF-UK helped write London 2012’s ‘One Planet Olympic’ sustainability framework and remained a prominent stakeholder advisor throughout the 8 year process of planning and implementing the ‘greenest Games ever’. WWF’s support ranged from detailed planning advice to materials selection and procurement processes to the use of carbon management strategies and the sustainable operations of Olympic sponsors such as Coca Cola. Since the London Games, WWF has been working worldwide with sports industry partners to help facilitate the transfer of learning and legacy benefits to future sports events.

WWF-Russia has been involved in detail with the Sochi Games since the bid stage, working with local partners including Greenpeace and intra-governmental agencies such as UNEP and UNESCO, with the intention of protecting globally important sites for conservation in the region and ensuring that the Olympic movement’s positive momentum on sustainability is continued. Despite some significant successes, like relocating some facilities from most ecologically sensitive areas and adopting leopard reintroduction programme as one of compensation measures, the construction companies and organizing committee’ engagement with NGOs and other agencies became increasingly insupportable.

NGOs participated in monthly meetings aimed at improving green standards of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. However, although participants of these meetings agreed to many ways in which things could be done better, nothing was being implemented by the organizers, so the whole process was deemed useless by independent NGOs. In 2010, WWF and Greenpeace withdrew from the environmental consultation of Sochi-2014.

Currently, from the nature conservation standpoint, WWF considers the following decisions as the major mistakes of Sochi-2014:

  1. The location for the sites was chosen incorrectly. From the environmental point of view, the decision was bad because the whole mountain cluster is located on the territory of the Sochi National Park – a specially protected nature area with the highest number of species in the whole of Russia. From the point of view of tourism, valley of the River Mzymta cannot host more than 30 thousand people a year. The infrastructure built during the Olympic construction is designed for 100-120 thousand people. There are just not enough slopes here for a large-scale ski resort. 
  2. Because of the haste, Olympic organizers did not conduct a topographic survey for construction. All projects were developed using only data from books, and sometimes only “convenient” data. This led to ridiculous situations, when project documents said that a site located up in the mountains is inhabited by dolphins and pelicans.
  3. The projects themselves were of a very low quality and did not take into account very difficult weather conditions. As a result, a normal storm  washed away a port under construction. When water rose in the Mzymta river, it washed away temporary barracks for the workers. Both accidents resulted in deaths. Some facilities of the mountain cluster are located on powerful landslides, which have started to move.
  4. Due to lack of basic environmental information about the area (ungulate concentration sites, migration routes), Sochi-2014 organizers did not implement any activities to at least partly compensate the damage.
  5. During the construction, the organizers hardly monitored the impact on species, especially large mammals.
  6. The pointless construction of the joint highway-railway route (which could be replaced by widening the existing road) completely destroyed the fishery value of the Mzymta River. Before, it was a spawning site for 20% of all the Black Sea Salmon, a species listed in both Russian and IUCN Red lists.  Over 3 thousand hectares of rare forests from the Tertiary period, with large numbers of Taxus and Buxus, were logged. Ungulate hibernation sites on Psekhako Mountain Ridge – used in particular by red deer and wild boar – were destroyed. Migration routes of bears and turs (goat-antilope) on Aigba Mountain Range disappeared.
  7. Under the pretext of Olympic needs, the nature conservation legislation was significantly weakened, especially parts concerning protected nature areas and environmental assessment of construction projects. For example, in 2006 the Law on specially protected nature areas was amended, allowing to organize large-scale athletic events in national parks (which was completely banned before). Starting from January 2007, Russia abolished compulsory environmental expertise for construction projects. In December 2009, State Duma (Upper Chamber of the Parliament) of Russia approved changes to the Forest legislation, which allowed logging of rare species of trees and shrubs for the purposes of the Olympic construction.
  8. The Government refused to fund the post-Olympic environmental rehabilitation program costing around 1 billion rubles (30 million dollars). The program was developed in 2012 by leading Russian scientists and international experts from IUCN and UNEP.