Sochi Back in the Spotlight

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(ATR) Four years after the 2014 Winter Olympics Sochi is back in the international spotlight.

Fisht stadium (Wikimedia Commons)
And this time, it is not only for its doping lab.

The Russian coastal beach resort turned Winter Olympics host has found another use for its Olympic stadium, first used for the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies. Fisht stadium was used in the 2017 Confederations Cup, a traditional World Cup warm up tournament, and is now hosting World Cup matches.

Sochi will host a total of six matches during the World Cup, including a quarterfinal match. By hosting these matches Sochi became the first Winter Olympic city to host an Olympics, World Cup and Grand Prix Formula 1 race. The other cities hosting this sporting trifecta include Barcelona, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro.

Russian’s have traditionally flocked to Sochi for its beaches on the Black Sea and its luxury resorts. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, pushed to diversify the economy of the region with sports by hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics. Russia spent a reported $50 billion on infrastructure projects to develop Sochi and the Rosa Khutor ski resort as a winter sports destination.

During the World Cup the Washington Post interviewed tourists in Sochi about the sporting legacy of the Olympics. Russians quoted in the article said that tourism in the area seemed to increase because of awareness brought by the 2014 Games.

“Before the Olympic Games, there are not so many sports centers here,” Igor Berezovscky, a tourist from Siberia told the Post. “People came here before the Olympic Games only to lie on their backs, only to have a rest, and after the Olympic Games, there’s so much more. After the Olympic Games, people who were interested in sports came here.”

Ahead of the World Cup the IOC sent out a release saying “Olympic legacies live on in Russia”. The IOC described Sochi as an “integrated tourism complex uniting the newly built Olympic facilities with the city's historical centre and the traditional tourist routes”.

“In 2016, the value of services provided by all Sochi wellbeing resort facilities came to USD 700 million,” the IOC said. “Sochi also now hosts an average of 250 sporting and cultural events every year. Sochi is now a year-round destination, with the skiing facilities of the mountain venues well used.”

Fisht stadium cost $779 million to construct, one of the more expensive stadiums used during the World Cup. The tournament reportedly cost Russia $11 billion, according to Bloomberg. While the stadium may get positive coverage during the tournament, the city of Sochi still does not have a regular club football team.

FC Zhemchuzhina-Sochi played in the city for 22 years before being disbanded in 2013. The team had a spell in the Russian top division in the mid-1990's, but was quickly relegated to Russian’s lower divisions. There are plans to relocate the second division club FC Dynamo St. Petersburg to Sochi to play in the 43,000 seat stadium.

Even with the World Cup, Sochi cannot and probably will not ever escape the state-run doping scheme that plagued the 2014 Olympics and other Russian athletes.

Venues are still finding permanent uses following the Olympics and World Cup, and the anti-doping lab built for the Olympics is no exception. Currently the building houses a gastro-pub that has become popular for foreign media to report about during the World Cup.

The New York Times, which broke the Russian doping story ahead of the 2016 Olympics, visited the pub to find welcoming Russians and doping-themed cocktails (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/19/sports/world-cup/russian-doping.html). Patrons can drink an absinthe-based “Meldonium” drink or a “B-Sample,” which features tequila and sambuca.

“It is an extremely positive thing,” Artyom Zhuk, a Russian customer, said to the Times. “We want people to come here, have fun and see that Russians are friendly.”

By INSIDER reporter Aaron Bauer

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