RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center

A view from the normal hill of the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center in Sochi, Russia. The venue's construction costs were six times higher than originally estimated. (Lars Baron / Getty Images / February 1, 2014)

SOCHI, Russia — Tired of hearing reports about alleged corruption and budget overruns, some Russian citizens have given the 2014 Sochi Olympics a nickname.


The Games, which begin Friday, rank as the most expensive in Olympic history with an estimated cost of more than $50 billion and counting.

A recent study by a Russian watchdog group alleges that organizers paid far more than the going rate for numerous venues built in and around the Black Sea resort. One former official fled the country and has been accused of embezzlement.

"Athletes are not the only people who compete in Sochi," the Anti-Corruption Foundation report stated. "Officials and businessmen also took part in the Games and turned them into a source of income."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has fought back against critics.

Sochi has been his pet project from the start. Putin wants to transform the city into a year-round tourist destination and use the Olympics to showcase his country.

"If anyone has concrete data on instances of corruption in implementing the Sochi Olympics project, we ask them to supply us with objective data," he told reporters last week.

Still, there is widespread belief here that officials have misspent or pocketed a significant portion of the budget.

"They are lying in a big, big way," said Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader and former deputy premier in Boris Yeltsin's government.

The International Olympic Committee chose the site of these Winter Games in 2007, selecting Sochi in a close vote over Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Salzburg, Austria.

Initial estimates placed the final price tag at about $12 billion.

The plans called for a cluster of arenas along the coast and another grouping of sports venues in the mountains, all built from scratch. But organizers were tasked with more than just preparing for skiers and skaters.

They launched an ambitious effort to construct hotels, roads and railways in this city of about 400,000 residents. The goal? To make Sochi more than just a summer vacation spot.

Putin doesn't think such expenditures should be lumped in with the Olympic budget, which he puts at only about $6.4 billion. He said: "Those expenses are not directly related to the Olympic Games."

But even the Russian president has had concerns about the project.

Early last year, he took an inspection trip through Sochi and was displeased with the progress, personally firing the vice president of the Russian Olympic Committee.

That man, Akhmed Bilalov, was in charge of building the RusSki Gorki ski jumping center, where spending had ballooned to $267 million, more than six times higher than originally estimated.

After his dismissal, Bilalov left the country and was accused of embezzlement.

The Anti-Corruption Foundation report, released last month, lists other examples of construction gone awry.