Last year, as the plans to develop and construct the sites and arenas for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi were initiated, the Games’ master, Dmitry Chernyshenko, assured that Russia was “delivering the ‘Green Games’ … committed not only to protecting the environment … but (also) dramatically enhancing the environmental situation” of the Black Sea resorts and game areas. However, looking back as the dust settles after Sochi, which the Russian government and other Sochi marketing franchises exacted 185 billion rubbles ($51 billion) in funds to produce, the environmental effects of Russia’s Winter Games have been devastating for Imeretinsky Valley’s subtropics and ecosystem.The construction of seven stadiums and the Olympic Villages that made up the Coastal Cluster and five Mountain Cluster resorts and complexes for slope events such as snowboarding, skiing and bobsleighing, all of which hosted over 2,000 athletes and were visited by thousands of spectators and dignitaries from around the globe, took seven years to complete. Sochi has surpassed the record for the most expensive Olympic Games ever produced, and the toll this past Winter Games has had on the Sochi’s surrounding environment has been far from green.
Although one of Russia’s richest sites of biodiversity and rare forest grounds, 8,750 acres of Sochi National Park were torn down to make way for the Sochi Games’ construction, including a large stretch of wetlands that was formerly home to as many as 65 species of birds. Many of the territories have seen large declines in populations of reptiles and brown bears, especially with the deterioration of the large Mzymta River. The park’s natural source of salmon has become heavily polluted because of the railroads and tunnels that were built beside it to connect venues with Sochi’s airport. Since the preparations for the Games began in 2007, the river had been collecting the debris and chemicals from the massive Olympic Park and resort constructions — Mzymta’s entire form has been misshapen by the process.
In 2006, a Federal Code to protect Russia’s rare forest sites enacted as a way to preserve “26 percent of the world’s last remaining forests untouched by logging.” However, in 2009, as Sochi Games’ projects progressed, the State Duma amended the code to allow the logging of rare forest species formerly protected by the Federal Code. Responding to environmental activists who were furious after the large logging projects in Sochi National park were completed and also attempting to adhere to Chernyshenko’s “Green Games” outline, Sochi projectors planted over one million trees to replace the losses due to the Games’ construction. Though a somewhat conscious gesture, the concern is still for the lost ecosystem the forests once provided.
Gretchen Bleiber, a former Olympic medalist, appalled, condemned Russia’s futile attempts to make up for the damages to Sochi National Park, saying, “The problem is that you can’t destroy an old-growth forest ecosystem and just rebuild it elsewhere. The biodiversity that has been lost is immeasurable. Damage in the national park has spread far beyond the natural areas that were obliterated.”
Even the Games’ own is speaking out in defense of the forests and environmental habitats that were destroyed by the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games.