Winning Olympic Bid for Sochi Stirs Mixed Emotions for Russian Ecologists
MOSCOW -- Russian environmentalists have greeted Sochi's winning Olympic bid with patriotic pride but also warned that construction plans would destroy part of a protected mountain wilderness.
The Black Sea resort of Sochi beat cities from South Korea and Austria to host the 2014 Winter Olympics but while its rivals were established winter sport centres, Sochi will have to build almost everything from scratch.
"Our feelings are complicated and mixed," Andrei Petrov, the World Heritage coordinator at Greenpeace in Russia, told reporters on Thursday.
"On the one side for me and all Russian citizens this is great news but on the other hand there is the construction of the Olympic Games in the buffer zone of a World Heritage Park."
The largely undeveloped Krasnaya Polyana ski resort 70 kilometres (40 miles) from Sochi, nestling on the north-west tip of the Caucasus mountains, will host most of the mountain competitions at the Games.
It currently has just a handful of ski lifts and hotels and much of the $12 billion Russia pledged to the Games will be spent turning it into the state-of-the-art glass, steel and concrete vision laid out in its bid presentation.
But environmentalists fear the bobsleigh track and the Olympic village will eat into a kilometre-wide buffer zone protecting mountains, forests, rivers and wildlife in the Western Caucasus World Nature Heritage Site beyond the resort.
"We're proud that Russia is the Olympic candidate winner but at the same time we will do our best to ensure that construction work does not destroy nature," Yevgeny Shvarts, conservation policy director for environmental group WWF Russia, said.
Facilities at the Olympic village will dissect the traditional feeding and migration grounds of the brown bear and red dear, he added, as well as ripping up rare flowers and plants.
Russian Olympic bidders have said they are drawing up plans in close consultation with environmental groups.
"It will be a carbon and waste-free Games that raises awareness and understanding of the environment while protecting the natural beauty of the region around Sochi," the Russian bid team said in a statement.
Both WWF and Greenpeace plan to lobby for changes in Sochi's development plans.