From: James Kilner, Reuters
Published February 5, 2007 12:00 AM

Greens Say Russia 2014 Winter Olympics Bid Threatens Ecology

MOSCOW -- Leading environmental groups said on Friday Russia's bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics would involve tearing down forest that is home to rare wildlife including brown bears and red deer.

Greenpeace and WWF were speaking after the state environmental watchdog invited them in for talks to try to defuse a row that is casting a cloud over the bid, backed by the Kremlin, to stage the games around the southern city of Sochi.

Two weeks before a delegation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is due in Sochi to inspect the bid, both green groups say they will urge the IOC to rule out Sochi unless the bid is changed to lessen its environmental impact.

"They have to change the bid as it stands. It is ... harmful to the environment," Igor Chestin, WWF director in Russia, told Reuters.

Oleg Mitvol, the high-profile deputy head of Rosprirodnadzor, the state environmental watchdog, said changes to the bid would be considered. He made no specific commitments.

"Our country very much needs the Olympics but at the same time it's necessary to ensure the environment in the area where they are held does not deteriorate and maybe even is improved in some respects," he told a news conference.

Russia has not staged an Olympics since the Soviet Union hosted the 1980 Summer Games. The Kremlin wants the games in part to showcase the country's revival under President Vladimir Putin as an economic and political powerhouse.

Sochi, on Russia's Black Sea coast, has been short-listed along with Salzburg in Austria and Pyeongchang in South Korea. The Russian bid is widely seen as an outsider.

Until late last year the forests and mountains around the proposed Olympic site were classified as national park, forbidding development.

But a new forestry code switched the area to the control of the Economic Development Ministry from the Natural Resources Ministry and allowed development in the area.

Green campaigners said the momentum behind the law change came not from the Olympic bid, but businessmen who wanted access to lucrative land for development in an area which is home to brown bears, red deer and chamois.

The bid is a matter of prestige for Putin. He holidays and entertains foreign heads of government at his villa in Sochi.

The IOC will announce in Guatemala in July which of the three candidates will host the games.

(Additional reporting by Olesya Dmitracova)

Source: Reuters

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