With eight months to go until the 2014 Winter Olympics, this is usually the time when Games chiefs start cranking up their public relations campaign and begin to get us all excited about the five-ringed circus all over again. But the suits at the International Olympic Committee have some fires to douse right now, at the end of a week that brought nothing but bad news for a series of host and candidate host cities.
Opposition leaders Boris Nemtzov and Leonid Martynyuk released a report claiming that more than $30 billion of monies allocated to Sochi projects has gone missing. The Games will be the most expensive ever at a total cost of around $50 billion, which Nemtzov insists is more than the previous 21 Winter Olympics combined and vastly higher than the original $12 billion budget.
"We account this irregularity for corruption, fraud, sloppiness and unprofessionalism," Nemtzov told a Moscow press conference.
Yahoo! Sports addressed the issue in this story from February, following concerns raised by watchdog groups about the level of spending taking place.
Nemtzov claimed the funds could have been used to provide nearly a million new homes for under-privileged Russians, but the funding for this Games is more complicated than usual, with uber-wealthy oil billionaires providing much of the financial backing – at the behest of President Vladimir Putin.
While the protests against the use of the Sochi money will not quiet any time soon, Putin's overriding power in Russia means that any kind of formal investigation is virtually unthinkable.
Yet it is not only the Winter Games that have been hit by troubling headlines this week. The Turkish city of Istanbul, widely considered to be the favorite to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, has found its human rights record come under attack following extraordinary scenes in the city center.
According to Reuters, police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters who had camped in a public park to complain about the habitat that would be destroyed if a planned new shopping mall goes ahead.
"Scores" of protesters were wounded, according to Reuters, including several tourists. CNN correspondent Ivan Watson tweeted: "Like so many other Istanbul residents, I got tear gassed on my way to the office. Imagine (if) NYC cops gassed Times Square on a daily basis."
Tensions have been rising in Istanbul over issues such as the government's stance on neighboring Syria, restrictions on alcohol sales and warnings against public displays of affection.
This week's incident could have a significant impact on the 2020 vote, which will be finalized in September after a series of IOC meetings over the summer.
The problems facing Istanbul makes criticism of rival bids from Madrid and Tokyo seem somewhat tame by comparison.
Madrid's bid has been blighted by the chaotic handling of the Operacion Puerto drug scandal, where investigators unearthed a systematic doping program by a Spanish doctor – only for a court to rule that hundreds of bags of blood evidence could not be tested as it would infringe the privacy of the athletes involved.
Tokyo's credentials as host did not look especially strong a few months back, with its status as the world's most expensive city cited as a major concern. Given the situation elsewhere, however, that may now be the least of the IOC's worries.
- Politics & Government
- 2014 Winter Olympics