Why did the Olympic Games take place in Sochi

No “green games” in Sochi

IOC neglects its own environmental standards at the Winter Olympics

Although the IOC had promised to take environmental considerations into account, a lot of damage was done to the surrounding nature in preparation for the Sochi Winter Olympics. Now it is imperative to compensate for this environmental degradation.

Photo: Vitalij Kovalev

February 04, 2014 - At the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi on February 7th, NABU criticized the inadequate monitoring of environmental standards by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In 2006 it had already committed itself to taking into account nature and environmental protection aspects when selecting the Olympic locations. “The Russian government and the IOC had promised to plan Sochi as the 'Green Olympics'. But the Olympic infrastructure caused a lot of damage to the surrounding nature, ”says NABU Vice President Thomas Tennhardt. The IOC had recognized the deficiencies of the Olympic venue and set environmental standards, but hardly checked to what extent they were being implemented in Russia. "The Russian government must now take measures to compensate for the environmental damage and, for example, reforest forests," demands Tennhardt.


NABU had already warned in 2007 that an event of this size in the greater Sochi area would result in ecological problems and appealed to the IOC not to host the Winter Games there. "The West Caucasus is one of the most important biodiversity centers on earth and the habitat of the last mountain wisents in Europe," said Vitalij Kovalev, head of the NABU Caucasus program, who himself comes from the Krasnodar region. "So far, the Olympics have not caused damage to the neighboring UNESCO World Heritage Site of the West Caucasus, as feared, but the Sochier National Park and the Imeretinskaya Plain have been severely affected by the preparations," Kovalev continued.


Location of the "West Caucasus" World Natural Heritage Area - Map: NABU

The inadequate monitoring by the IOC is exemplified by the garbage dumps, some of which were set up near the national park. "Although there is an elaborately worked out waste prevention and disposal concept, hardly anything has been implemented so far," complained Kovalev. The construction work is another point of criticism: since 2008, sports complexes have been built in Adler on the coast and in Krasnaja Poljana / Esto Sadok in the interior, 40 kilometers away, on the border with the Western Caucasus World Heritage Area and its mountain ranges. The newly built road and parallel railway, which connects the two competition venues, runs through the valley along the Mzymta River, which supplies drinking water to the population of Sochi and flows directly into the Black Sea. The construction of the traffic routes was at the expense of the Mzymta and the surrounding forests. The straightening and pollution of the river as well as the deforestation of deciduous forests between Adler and Krasnaya Polyana leave a visible trace in the landscape of the greater Sochi area.

Even if the full extent of ecological damage is not yet known: “What is certain is that Sochi will not experience a Green Olympics. Sochi is an example of superlatives and proof that the current environmental standards and the IOC's approach have so far been inadequate, ”Kovalev continued.


more on the subject

Environmentally friendly Olympia instead of green fig leaves

NABU demands compliance with environmental standards

The region is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world. - Photo: Sergej Trepet

July 27, 2010 - NABU warns of a threat to West Caucasian protected areas from the 2014 Winter Olympics. NABU Vice President and Head of International Affairs Thomas Tennhardt and NABU Federal Managing Director Leif Miller visited the Olympic projects under construction in the southern Russian holiday resort of Sochi. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the West Caucasus borders directly on the mountain region of the Olympic Winter Games. With its unique flora and fauna, the region is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world. “With the Olympic Winter Games, there is now a risk of rapid natural consumption. However, the Russian authorities recently assured us that there are no more building projects on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, ”said Tennhardt.


In a conversation in 2014, NABU called on the representatives of the Sochi State Organizing Committee to conscientiously adhere to the environmental standards they set themselves. "Sochi 2014 will not only be measured by its athletic performance, but also by whether the Russian government is able to comply with environmental standards," said Miller. Russia has the chance to present itself as a pioneer, contrary to existing prejudices. The representatives of NABU offered their support in preparing environmentally friendly winter games. For example, NABU has submitted a project to the Federal Government's International Climate Protection Initiative that aims to protect the natural forests in the buffer zone of the Western Caucasus World Heritage Site within four years and promote the use of renewable energies.


In the West Caucasus herds of mountain wisents still roam. - Photo: Sergej Trepet

The Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee emphasized its interest in increased cooperation with German organizations and pointed out that an environmental, waste prevention and climate protection strategy had already been developed and was being implemented. Citizen participation, “green” building standards and environmental impact assessments have already been implemented. Wherever there has been damage to nature, they try to find compensatory measures and are very interested in professional support from Germany. After the conversation, Tennhardt said: “Apparently there is a willingness to show consideration for nature and the environment. So that it doesn't just pay lip service, we - and by that I mean the German public and politics - have to make it clear that we don't just want to see green fig leaves, but that we attach great importance to the environmentally friendly design of the 2014 Winter Olympics. "

The West Caucasus region is home to Europe's largest high mountain primeval forest, where herds of mountain wisps still roam free. NABU has been committed to protecting the unique natural landscape in this region for more than ten years.


In Sochi there is a threat of enormous environmental damage

The decision of the location for the 2014 Olympics is sharply criticized by NABU

Untouched nature in Adygea - Photo: Sergej Trepet

July 5, 2007: NABU has sharply criticized the decision of the International Olympic Committee to host the 2014 Olympic Games in the Russian city of Sochi on the Black Sea. "For the 16 days of the Winter Olympics, valuable nature will be irrevocably destroyed. Once again, ecological interests are being sacrificed to the economy," said NABU Vice President Thomas Tennhardt. At the last Winter Games in Turin, the IOC promised to take into account nature and environmental protection aspects when choosing the future Olympic locations. "The decision is miles away from the" Green Olympics ". Even the selection of Sochi as the venue for the Winter Games is incomprehensible. Sochi is the southernmost point of Russia and has a comparable subtropical climate," emphasized Tennhardt. Sochi is also one of the regions in Russia that has been hardest hit by climate change.


Summit in the Caucasus - Photo: Sergej Trepet

Due to the increased number of rainfall, landslides and mudslides have increased in recent years, which have partially buried entire health resorts under themselves. The work on the Olympic infrastructure will continue to burden the sensitive ecosystem.
In the case of Sochi, all Olympic objects are to be erected in valuable, partially untouched natural landscapes. Seven of them are planned directly in the Sochi National Park, three of them (the bobsleigh track, the Olympic village, the biathlon facilities) even in the narrow buffer zone of the State Caucasian Biosphere Reserve, a total reserve recognized as a World Heritage Site since 1999. All other objects are to be located in a largely natural valley with swamp areas that are unique in Russia and that serve as important resting areas for migratory birds, among other things.

The West Caucasus is one of the most important biodiversity centers on earth and the habitat of the last mountain wisents in Europe. Even in the run-up to the decision, parts of the population of Sochi and the affected mountain villages were put under considerable pressure to subordinate properties and houses to the needs of the Olympic planning. Democratic decision-making structures were not observed. "The majority of the representatives of the IOC bowed to the whisperings of the Russian business lobby without realizing the extent of the negative consequences for the unique world natural heritage in the Russian West Caucasus," said Tennhardt.


Olympic plans for 2014 threaten nature in the Caucasus

NABU demands compliance with nature and environmental protection standards

Photo: Sergej Trepet

July 3, 2007: On the occasion of the upcoming decision on the location of the 2014 Winter Olympics, NABU appealed to the International Olympic Committee to reject Russia's application to host the Games in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea. Pyeongchang (South Korea) and Salzburg (Austria) are also in the running.

In the case of Sochi, all Olympic objects are to be erected in valuable, partially untouched natural landscapes. Seven of them are planned directly in the Sochi National Park, three of them - the bobsleigh track, the Olympic village and the biathlon facilities - even in the narrow buffer zone of the State Caucasian Biosphere Protection Area, a total reserve recognized as a World Heritage Site since 1999. All other objects are to be located in a largely natural valley with swamp areas that are unique in Russia and which serve as important resting areas for migratory birds, among other things.


Caucasian mountain bison - Photo: Sergej Trepet

"The West Caucasus is one of the most important biodiversity centers on earth and the habitat of the last mountain wisents in Europe. Valuable nature is to be irrevocably destroyed for 16 days at the Olympic Winter Games," criticized NABU Vice President Thomas Tennhardt. There is considerable pressure on parts of the population of Sochi and affected mountain villages to subordinate properties and houses to the needs of the Olympic planning. Democratic decision-making structures are not to be observed, as is the case with the impairment of natural resources.

Like its local partners (Ecological Watch in the North Caucasus, Adygee Representation of the International Social-Ecological Union and the Maikoper Representation of the Russian Society for Nature Conservation), NABU, which was significantly involved in the designation of the State Caucasian Biosphere Protection Area as a World Natural Heritage Site, rejects the Olympic Games in Caucasus. At the last winter games in Turin, Italy, the IOC committed itself to taking into account nature and environmental protection aspects when selecting future Olympic locations. "The committee now has to be measured specifically by its words for" Green Olympics ". Every vote for Sochi is fateful for nature," said the NABU Vice President.