Updated: Monday, 24 February 2014 22:11 | By Agence France-Presse

Russia must banish Olympic 'white elephant' spectre from Sochi

As Russia pats itself on the back for hosting a largely hitch-free Winter Games, the Kremlin now faces a steep challenge to implement bold promises on Olympic legacy and prevent the new facilities from turning into disused white elephants.


Russia must banish Olympic 'white elephant' spectre from Sochi

Fireworks explode around the Fisht Olympic Stadium at the end of the closing ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 23, 2014 at the Olympic Park in Sochi - by Alexander Nemenov

The Games, which cost a total of over $50 billion, have left Sochi with no less than six stadiums by the Black Sea, a giant new snow resort in the mountains above and tens of thousands of new hotel rooms. 

"The transformation has been amazing. Now it is important to secure the legacy," said International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach on Sunday. 

When President Vladimir Putin in 2007 won the right to host the Games, he promised IOC delegates that the Games would leave behind a "new world class resort for the new Russia". 

After a breakneck construction drive lasting barely half a decade that conservationists say has wreaked untold damage on the environment, Russia now has all the modern facilities it wants in the Olympic Park area south of Sochi city and the mountain cluster. 

Officials emphasise that the $50 billion price tag -- which made Sochi the most expensive Games ever -- was not just for the sports facilities but a revamp of the entire southern Russian region including new roads and train lines. 

But once the Paralympics finish on March 16 and life returns to normal, what will happen to it all?

- 'Risk of empty hotels' -

"Not a single object is going to be thrown away," vowed Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak. 

The chief organiser of the Sochi Games, Dmitry Chernyshenko said there would be "no white elephants". 

Russian officials enjoy pointing out that Sochi will host Russia's first ever Formula 1 Grand Prix this autumn and will be a host city of the 2018 football World Cup. 

Yet for the Sochi Games, 40 new hotels have been built and 15 remodelled with a total capacity of 26,000 rooms. The city will need a constant stream of tourists all year round to keep them viable. 

"The risk that there are going to be empty hotels certainly exists," said Yuri Barzykin, vice president of the Russian tour industry union. 

"Sochi is a seasonal resort and to fill up the hotels we will need more than just isolated world-class events." 

Quite what happens outside of those times when there no top class events remains more than a little fuzzy. 

"I see the stadiums as a great challenge in terms of sustainability," said the head of Germany's Sports Confederation, Alfons Hoermann. 

- 'Maybe a miracle, maybe a disaster' -

As well as hosting football World Cup matches the Fisht stadium that housed the opening and closing ceremonies (but nothing else) will be used as a training centre for the Russia football team and as a concert venue. 

The main ice hockey venue, the Bolshoi Ice Dome, will become the home of a new ice hockey team for the Sochi region. 

The Iceberg Skating Palace that hosted the figure skating was initially supposed to be turned into a velodrome. 

But Russian officials have changed their mind and it will now be used a "multipurpose sports and entertainment complex" for events including skating.

Other venues will completely lose their original associations. The speed skating Adler Arena is going to become an exhibition centre, the Shayba Arena ice hockey venue a leisure centre for children. 

The ice cube curling centre will be -- you guessed it -- a "multipurpose sports and entertainment complex". 

In the mountains, all the venues will be used for their original purpose. The Sanki sliding centre will host the world bobsleigh championships in 2017, the RusSki Gorki ski jump centre is the only such facility in the country.

The key legacy facility in the mountains is the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre, a resort capable of hosting 10,000 people a day and which organisers insist is "commercially viable". 

"In Sochi there could be a miracle or a disaster. For now, the forecasts are not optimistic," said Valeria Mozganova, a property expert with radio station Business FM.

She said people will be tempted to try out the new ski centre once. "But will they want to go back? That is another question."

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