Moscow/Nairobi, 4 July 2008-The organizers of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi have decided to relocate several facilities away from a protected wilderness area following recommendations from the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP).
In line with UNEP's May '08 report, the Sochi organizers will find an alternative venue for the bobsleigh and luge tracks as well as the mountain village, which were to be built on the edge of a fragile nature reserve.
Announcing the decision, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said: "In determining priorities-money or ecology-we choose ecology. If the balance of nature is upset, this could lead to a situation that would be impossible to restore for any money".
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "The decision to move the Sochi Olympic venues away from the Caucasus nature reserve is a significant step forward on the road to green the Games in 2014. We welcome this clear sign of the Russian government's strong commitment to environmental sustainability for the Sochi Games."
The UNEP report, which was distributed to the Sochi 2014 organizers, the Russian government and environmental NGOs, had expressed concern about the planned mountain venues.
The site which had been previously earmarked for the snow village and bobsleigh track borders the Western Caucasus UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the only mountain areas in Europe that remains virtually untouched by human activity. The unique ecosystem is home to several rare and endangered species, including the West Caucasian chamois and the West Caucasian tur.
West Caucasian Tur
Wild Russia: Center for Russian Nature Conservation
West Caucasian Chamois: Ashling O'Connor, Olympics Correspondent Times Online
UNEP's report called for the organizers to explore alternative venues, cautioning that a failure to properly address the issue could compromise efforts to green the Sochi Games.
As it announced the new plans, the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee said it is "committed to creating an environmental legacy for the future of the region". "This commitment to the environment has been one of the main factors in decisions on the Olympic venue location", it added.
Notes to editors
The United Nations Environment Programme advises the International Olympic Committee on questions of environmental protection and works closely with the organizers of Olympic Games on sustainability issues.
UNEP's Sochi 2014 Mission Report is not a public document.
For more information on the Sochi 2014 plans, visit: http://sochi2014.com/43086
For details on the Western Caucasus and its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visit: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/900
The West Caucasian chamois and the West Caucasian tur were listed as endangered on the 2007 Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
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