If the lead up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics are going this well, the 2018 World Cup venues should be up and running in no time. What’s that you ask? Russian preparations for the upcoming Winter Olympics are a clusterfuck as many predicted. There are accusations of slave labor, mob assassinations, real estate battles and firings of Olympic officials. There’s also less than a year until the opening ceremonies.
Russian President Vladmir Putin responded by firing Russian Olympics Committee deputy chief Akhmed Bilalov after he was asked about delays in the completion of a ski jumping complex.
Firing the deputy chief should resolve any delays and see that the remaining construction is completed on time and on budget. Unfortunately workers will be required to put in 16 hour days without pay instead of the usual 12 just to make sure things stay on schedule.
The meddling kids at Human Rights Watch published a report yesterday detailing abuse and exploitation of workers involved in the construction of Olympic venues.
The tens of thousands of migrant workers toiling at the Olympic venues and other sites have less to celebrate, according to a 67-page report published today by Human Rights Watch. It documents multiple cases of workplace abuse and exploitation: non-payment of promised wages, 12-hour shifts with few or no days off, confiscation of travel and identity documents, and breach or withholding of employment contracts.
If the workers, mostly from Eastern Europe and various Stans, don’t like the conditions, there’s always the desert paradise of Dubai*.
HRW puts much of the blame for worker conditions on Olimpstroy, a state owned company and the International Olympic Committee. Both claim there’s nothing to see and claims were investigated and resolved.
However, a senior Russian official told Reuters the accusations in the New York-based organisation’s report were exaggerated and that the government was monitoring workers’ rights closely. A spokesman for the IOC said it had “a longstanding commitment to follow-up” on human rights issues connected to the Games and had taken steps ensure a handful of reported instances of non-payment of wages were resolved.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak claimed HRW’s report was “not broad enough to warrant serious concern”.
Anyone looking to delve deeper into these concerns might end up like Aslan Usoyan or Grandpa Hasan as he was also known. The former mob kingpin caught a bullet from a sniper as he exited a Moscow restaurant several weeks ago. His death sparked a battle for control of his holdings which includes prime Sochi real estate.
Rival clans are said to be eagerly eyeing property and businesses once overseen by Aslan Usoyan, better known by his mob name “Grandpa Hassan”. Usoyan oversaw a vast empire that was particularly strong in Moscow and Sochi, the site of next year’s Winter Olympics.
“Where there is money, there is organised crime,” said Sergei Kanev, a veteran crime reporter for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. “[Sochi] was his fiefdom. He considered it a second homeland.”
This is just what Russia needs this close to the Olympics. Gangland battles over turf when the world’s (read: Northern Hemisphere) eyes will be focused on Sochi.
Turf wars aren’t the only problems affecting real estate in the resort town. There are also claims of forced evictions without proper compensation and destruction of fragile environmental habitats.
Let’s not even mention that these Winter Olympics will be the most expensive in history. Current estimates are in the ballpark of $50 billion if the IOC is to be believed. Officials claim this is due to the lack of infrastructure but it’s safe to assume much of the cost will end up in the pockets of government officials, developers and organized crime. Hа здоровье!
* Read this account of the “dark side of Dubai” if you get a chance. The plight of immigrant workers is only one of the things that should disgust you. I’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of experiencing Dubai first hand. My advice to you. Skip it.