Sochi ready for Olympic spotlight
The Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi is ready to step into the spotlight as host of the world's next major sporting event after the London Olympics, according to 2014 Winter Games chief Dmitry Chernyshenko.
Sochi, the first Russian city to have been awarded the Winter Olympics, has already staged several test events in its mountain cluster and is preparing for its last and biggest major venue tests over the coming 12 months.
"It is a very exciting moment for a project like this and we've been planning and working for seven years already just for these two weeks (in 2014) to be perfect," Chernyshenko told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"(In 2012/13) we will have the last opportunity to test all state of the art infrastructure; last season it was the mountain clusters, this season for both clusters with more than 48 events, 22 of which are international level events.
"It's like two Games spread out over two months but it is so useful," said the Sochi native, who also led the city's winning bid in 2007.
Despite what Chernyshenko called the "world's biggest construction site", plans for a Formula One race, also in 2014, will not be affected. The International Olympic Committee reserves the right to cancel the race if its preparations hamper Olympic progress.
Chernyshenko said organisers from both events had drawn up plans so as to maximise use of venues - pits stop buildings for example will also be used during the Olympics - and Russia's first Formula One race was on track.
Sochi will be out in force in London with 120 specialists seconded to the Games for experience and another 100 of their best volunteers working at the Olympics in July and August.
"We are using some (of London's) achievements as a blueprint to minimise expenditures to optimise our efforts," said Chernyshenko, who has led preparations from scratch as Sochi and its nearby mountain range had virtually no venue in place when they bid.
"All the systems like planning and system of contract management, management of the goods, organising of construction (are based on London)," he said.
Chernyshenko rejected criticism that in the test events held so far teams were not given equal access to familiarise themselves with the venues.
The IOC had also urged organisers as recently as April to improve access to venues.
"The biggest problem is with the access to the training venues. (Sochi) has promised many times it would be solved but it hasn't been solved," senior IOC member Gunilla Lindberg said.
Chernyshenko said the issue had arisen due to ongoing construction this winter that had curtailed access.
"We have to do our best to provide equal support and access to any and all participants. In the forthcoming test season automatically all venues will be welcoming international events," he said.
"The problem of athlete access will not exist at all. Last season some private owners of venues stopped construction during test events and restarted after the events. That meant that there was some limited access due to safety restrictions to venues."
Sochi was also on track to meet its financial targets and could even create a windfall with sponsorship revenues alone already topping $1.2 billion, a record for any Games, winter or summer, Chernyshenko said.
"The budget for staging the Games is around $1.8 billion. So far this budget is balanced," he said.
"Our record-breaking marketing programme goes from strength to strength, $1.2 billion from partnership programmes. More income will come from the IOC contribution from TV rights and big input from our campaign from merchandising.
"(Licensing) will generate additional income that will help us to keep our budget balanced. Ticketing could then even generate some profit," he said.
Chernyshenko also welcomed the re-election of Vladimir Putin as Russia's president. He will be sworn in on Monday.
"Since the start of the bidding campaign he was personally and actively involved in everything," said Chernyshenko of Putin, who regularly visits Sochi to ski.
"He personally guaranteed the strong commitments which have been delivered. Delivery of the first Winter Games in the history of our country. It was his baby. That is why we call him the captain of our team."
When asked about calls for a boycott of Ukraine during the Euro 2012 soccer championships over jailed opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko, Chernyshenko said politics and sport should remain separate.
Sochi is located on the Black sea coast, close to Georgia, with whom Russia fought a brief war in 2008 over two breakaway regions. The wider volatile Caucasus region is a major source of concern.
"Olympics is not about politics. It is always frustrating when politics interferes with such great values as the Olympics," he added. "Olympic values are friendship respect and excellence."