Margaret (Molly) Godwin-Jones holds a BA in Russian Studies from the College of William and Mary and an MA in Russian language from Boston College. She has also studied translation at American University. Molly is currently studying Russian and German translation at Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University in southern Russia and also serves as a member of SRAS’s Vestnik editing board. She plans eventually return to the United States to enroll in a PhD program. Molly hopes to work as a translator/interpreter, and eventually teach Russian language and linguistics.
The official mascots of Russia's Olympic Games for 2014: A snow leopord, a hare, and a polar bear.
The XXII Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia from February 7-23, 2014. Most Russians are very excited about hosting the Games, and as such there is a lot of publicity surrounding the upcoming events. This article discusses how to buy tickets for the Games, what documentation you will need for tickets and the special security passes required to attend, as well as other interesting information about the developments surrounding the Olympics.
Who is in Charge? Major Organization Names in Russian
Tickets (билеты) went on sale February 7, 2013. If you live outside Russia, you can only buy tickets through an Authorized Ticket Reseller (ATR), which is appointed by each country’s National Olympic Committee. For the United States, Canada, and Australia, the ATR is CoSport.
An artist's conception of what the Olympic site should look like when finished.
To buy tickets to the Sochi Olympics from within Russia, you must first register online here. Those who buy a ticket in Russia before May 31, 2013 will be eligible to receive a special souvenir ticket. Only Visa cards can be used to purchase tickets, and only those Visa cards which were issued in Russia. If you are a student studying abroad in Russia, you can buy a ticket through the website if you have a Visa card issued in Russia. If you want to pay in cash, you will need to go to a Main Ticket Center in Sochi or Moscow, which will open in the fall of 2013. For those who don’t want to pay in cash, but don’t have a Russian Visa card, you can apply for a Virtual Visa card issued by Sberbank. This is a special type of credit card that is totally virtual, so you won’t receive a physical card, but you can use it to pay for tickets on the Sochi website as well as other online purchases. For more information or to apply for a Virtual Visa card, visit Sberbank’s Visa site.
There are limits on how many tickets each person can buy. Certain events have different limits, especially those events that have limited seating, such as figure skating and the opening and closing ceremonies (limit 4 tickets per person). For all other events, the limit is 8 tickets per person per event, with an overall limit of 10 tickets. Tickets can be either delivered, or picked up at a Main Ticket Center in Moscow or Sochi. Delivery will take place in fall 2013, but only within Russia. If you pick up your ticket at a Main Ticket Center, you will need a passport (or other official document showing your identity), printed confirmation of the ticket order, and the Visa card used to buy the tickets.
Until June 2013, all tickets will be sold without a seat assignment. Customers can choose from different price categories, which will correspond with different seating areas. Prices range from 500 to 50,000 rubles (~ $17USD – $1650 USD). Seating assignment will begin in June, 2013. This is an automated process that will assign seats to all purchased tickets, as well as those still available for purchase. After June, customers will be able to select specific seats when purchasing tickets.
Some tickets will also be available to purchase during the games themselves at Main Ticket Centers and ticket box offices at sporting venues. However, it is generally advised to purchase tickets in advance.
In addition to a ticket, all spectators must obtain a Spectator Pass (паспрот болельщика). This is a special, individualized pass that must be shown along with the ticket in order to enter an event. There is no charge for the Spectator Pass, however only ticket holders can obtain a pass, so before applying for a pass, you must first begin the process of buying a ticket. Then, once you have an order number or ticket number, you can begin to fill out an application for a spectator pass. It takes 72 hours for these applications to be reviewed, but you will be given an application number through which you will be able to track the status of your application. Once the application has been approved, the Spectator Pass can be picked up at a Spectator Registration Center in Sochi. You must show your order number and an official ID (such as passport) to receive the Pass.
A recent aerial photo of the construction site for Russia's Olympic Games.
According to the Sochi Olympics website, those wishing to be volunteers must have a “friendly attitude, good communication skills, ability to cope with stress, stamina, ability to work as part of a team, sense of responsibility.” Applicants must be in the age range of 18-80 as of January 6, 2014. The site also lists knowledge of English as one of its requirements, although knowing another foreign language is also a plus.
The OCOG is now reviewing applications for those who want to work as volunteers at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi. Registration began on February 7, 2012, and closed on March 1, 2013. The selection process is quite intense: first, applicants must fill out a detailed application, including work and educational experience, language knowledge, and other personal information; next, all applicants are required to take an online test to assess their level of English; once the test has been reviewed, applicants will be invited for an interview, all foreign applicants will have their interview with either the Sochi or Moscow Volunteer hub, although the interview could be conducted through Skype if the applicant does not live in these cities. After the interview, a series of online personality tests will be conducted to see how the applicant would work in a group; finally, once all requirements have been met, the applicant is matched with a Volunteer Center in their area and training begins!
There are 26 Volunteer Centers throughout Russia, with eight in Moscow itself, and each one specializes in a different area for the Olympics. For example, the Center in Tomsk focuses on technology, the Center in St. Petersburg is in charge of organizing the Olympic Village, and the Center in Pyatigorsk along with one of Moscow’s Centers will provide linguistic services, such as translating. These are also the places where volunteer training will occur.
During the Games, volunteers will be able to experience the excitement first hand. They will be housed in “apartment-type residential complexes,” according to the volunteer website. In addition, transportation to and from the residences to the games will be provided, as will meals during a volunteers shift. All volunteers will be equipped with an official uniform as well. Unfortunately, travel from the volunteer’s home city is not provided; volunteers must make their own way to Sochi, but once they’re there, the OCOG promises to take care of most of their needs.
Volunteers will also receive a memento of their time at the games: “Each volunteer will receive a special volunteer book, in which his or her work at the games will be recorded. Depending on work results, a volunteer may also be issued with a commendation or reference on behalf of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee.” Another potential perk is free tickets to certain sporting events. The number of these tickets is very limited, however, so not all volunteers will necessarily be able to attend sporting events for free. Additionally, whether or not a volunteer can attend sporting events, or the opening and closing ceremony, depends on the volunteer’s work schedule.
Olympic Countdown Clocks
Special digital clocks were built in several major cities around Russia to countdown the time remaining to the Olympics. These clocks were installed on February 7, 2013, one year before the start of the Games. Each city also held a special ceremony to commemorate the new clocks, as well as the Olympics themselves. In St. Petersburg, the clock is located at the corner of Nevskii Prospekt and Malaya Konjushennaya Street, a very popular area. Several well-known politicians and famous sportsmen attended the unveiling ceremony.
These clocks are more like monuments than simple clocks. They are also called “Olympic Chimes” (Олимпические Куранты) and are meant to both count down to the upcoming events, while also allowing the possibility to look back and remember how far the country has come in preparing for the Olympics. They are over four meters high, three meters thick and 4.5 meters long. Each one weighs about three and a half tons. The back of each one displays a digital clock, counting down the time until the games begin. The clocks were unveiled on the same day as ticket sales began.
Corruption and Problems in Construction
The Sochi Olympics are currently estimated to be the most expensive in the history of the Olympics, costing an estimated 50 billion dollars. This is over twice the cost of the London Olympics, and more even than the Beijing Olympics, which were estimated to cost 40 billion dollars. This begs the question, where exactly is all that construction money going?
Part of the answer is infrastructure. Sochi itself was lacking in basic infrastructure, such as roads and railroads, which needed to be “built from scratch,” according to the Jean-Claude Killy, chair of the International Olympic Committee. In all, 378 federal facilities and 46 regional facilities are being built for the Olympics, but of these, only 13 are sport-related. The rest are all related to infrastructure.
Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Kozak shown inspecting the controversial ski jump.
A major project with costs that have increased exponentially is the ski-jump complex. This site was estimated to cost 1.2 billion rubles (40 million dollars), but the actual cost has soared to around 8 billion rubles (265 million dollars). Moreover, it was scheduled to be completed in July 2011, but is currently expected to be completed only in July 2013.
Putin himself was so enraged over this increase, as well as a two-year delay surrounding the completion of the project, that he called for its manager, the Vice President of the Russian Olympic Committee, Akhmed Bilalov to be fired. In fact, many events surrounding Bilalov and his dealings raise doubt. For instance, last May, the Russian bank Sberbank bought out Bilalov’s shares for the ski-jump’s construction, yet he remained in charge of the operation.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitrii Kozak stated that this was not the only project under Bilalov’s command that was behind schedule. Kozak cited the main reason behind the problems as a misunderstanding of geology. According to him, Bilalov and his construction firm failed to properly test the site’s geology, resulting in unforeseen problems and costs.
However, in responding to the cost increases, Kozak insisted that the high cost was not due to corruption. Officially, there have not been any documented cases of corruption directly tied to the Olympics, yet many officials from Sochi’s government have been charged with corruption in other spheres within the last year.
Since Russia cinched the bid for the Olympics in 2007, the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International has kept a close watch on construction projects. It found that nearly all construction projects in Russia are affected by corruption, which adds about 30 percent to the project’s total cost. With the Olympics, however, chief researcher Yuli Nisnevich found that the percentage is closer to 50 percent, or sometimes even higher. He stated that this is “an opportunity that the corrupt simply cannot resist.”
Migrant Workers’ Rights
In order to prepare Sochi for the Olympics, massive building projects are currently taking place. Many workers have come to the area in search of work, including many migrant workers. According to Konstantin Romodanovsky, chief of the Federal Migration Service, of the 74,000 construction workers, 16,000 are foreigners. Others, however, dispute this figure. Semyon Simonov, who runs an advocacy group that provides free legal help to migrant workers, claims that there are closer to 50,000 foreign workers in Sochi, most of whom do not have a work permit.
Human Rights Watch claims that migrant workers on the Sochi Olympic sites have been cheated out of wages and made to work long shifts without breaks or days off. Jane Buchanan, associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, wrote a report documenting migrant worker abuses based on interviews with 66 migrant workers from 2009-2012.
Workers have come from Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine, and work mainly in low-skill jobs such as carpenters, welders, or steel fitters, for which they are typically paid 55-80 rubles an hour (about $1.80-$2.60); for comparison, the monthly minimum monthly wage in Russia is 5,205 rubles ($173.50), which averages out to about 32.5 rubles ($1.08) per hour, assuming a 40-hour work week. Human Rights Watch states that many workers do not receive regular paychecks, or their pay is withheld until their supervisor considers the job finished, forcing workers to stay in difficult working conditions. Despite Russian labor laws specifying a 40-hour work week, overtime pay, and one day off per week, many workers work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, with only one day off every two weeks.
For those interested in more extensive information analyzing recent press coverage of the Olympics, see this article.