Sochi organizer says plans ahead of schedule

GENEVA: The chief organizer of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi says that preparations in the Russian city are ahead of schedule and financing for the games is secure.

The Black Sea resort and routes to the nearby mountains are "a huge construction site," organizing committee head Dmitry Chernyshenko said on Wednesday.

He said the global financial downturn would not affect the $12.6 billion project that includes building 13 venues and tunneling a road and rail link through a mountain.

"Certainly the crisis can hurt any project, but Sochi is one of the lucky projects that has full government support," he said in Geneva ahead of a May 13-14 visit to Sochi by the International Olympic Committee's coordination commission and heads of the winter sports federations.

Chernyshenko said "big progress" had been achieved this year, including the election last month of a state-approved candidate as mayor of Sochi.

Anatoly Pakhomov, representing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, won 78 percent of the vote. His main opponent, Boris Nemtsov, said government workers were pressured into supporting the Kremlin-approved candidate.

"There were different opinions about that (election)," Chernyshenko said. "It went exactly in accordance with Russian law. It was very transparent."

Putin, who as Russian president lobbied IOC members in person before the vote to award Sochi the games in July 2007, has made successful Olympic preparations a top priority for the government.

Chernyshenko said his organizing committee was in the operational planning phase and that major project milestones had been met.

"We are already deep in the details," he said. "It is now a huge construction site over there and some are well ahead of our ambitious schedule."

The most complicated project is drilling tunnels for a transport route connecting the coastal city to the mountain resort of Krasnaya Polyana 22 miles away where the Alpine events will be staged.

"It is the most time-consuming and money-consuming project. They are about two months ahead of schedule," Chernyshenko said.

The three-lane roads and railway are designed to transport 20,000 spectators each hour and are due to be finished by 2013.

The $12.6 billion budget is split into $5.8 billion of state funding for infrastructure, $5 billion of private investment — backed with state guarantees — for commercial projects such as venues and hotels, and $1.8 billion to run the Olympics.

The state is providing $330 million toward the organizing budget and the rest must be raised from marketing deals.

Chernyshenko said Sochi has signed top-tier sponsors — Rostelecom and Megafon from the communications sector, oil giant Rosneft and Sberbank — and completed contracts worth $550 million.

Chernyshenko dismissed suggestions that Sochi could be a security risk because it is close to the border with Georgia, where Russia fought a five-day war over disputed territory last August.

"It is one of the safest and most secure places in Russia," he said, noting that it was the summer residence of Putin and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. "The state is committed to provide the highest possible security level for the guests and inhabitants."