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.
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.
Reacting to the announcement on the relocation of the venues, representatives from the International Olympic Committee said: "We appreciate the extensive work conducted recently by the Sochi 2014 organizers in order to refine the mountain venue and accommodation plan taking into account all aspects of the Games' preparation, operations and legacy. Prime Minister Putin's sound judgement in recognizing the importance of protecting the environment was key to achieving this favourable outcome. We feel that due consideration has been paid to very important aspects of environment and sustainable development which form an integral part of the IOC's core values. We believe that the work carried out will also benefit the long-term development of the region."
Igor Chestin, the Head of WWF Russia, said: "This is the first Olympic win of Sochi-2014. And this is the win of the common sense. Everyone will benefit from the decision to relocate the sliding centre and the mountain Olympic village from the border of the Caucasian biosphere reserve. Placing these facilities closer to the other construction sites will not only preserve nature, but also save a lot of money and be better from social perspective".
Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of the International Union of Conservation of Nature(IUCN), said: "It is important to recognize a good decision when it is made and this is one of them. The decision to move some events and construction away from the Western Caucasus World Heritage site is an encouraging sign from the Russian authorities. The Olympic spirit is well served when nature conservation is taken into consideration."
Sergey Tsyplenkov, Executive Director of Greenpeace Russia, said: "Greenpeace Russia supports the Government's decision to relocate the Olympic sites out of the Grushevy range. We very much hope this decision will be implemented in its unedited version. We also hope that upcoming decisions will lead the Sochi Games to be the environmentally friendly Winter Olympic. Russian environmentalists have already called this decision the first Green medal of Sochi 2014, as this decision could help to save our fragile and unique nature. In our dreams Sochi 2014 would be a world symbol of Green Winter Olympic. This decision would not be possible without the support of international organizations, particularly UNEP and UNESCO. In their reports about Sochi, both organizations strongly supported the position of Russian NGOs about relocation."
Andrey Rudomakha, the Coordinator of the organization Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, said: "The problem with the conservation of Grushevy RIdge could not be resolved without the assistance of UNEP, UNESCO and IUCN. Our organization is very grateful to these international institutes for objectively considering this question and presenting their position before the Russian Government. As a whole, this situation shows that they can be very effective in influencing environment conservation in Russia. We are counting on their further participation in the process as we strive to reduce and compensate the damage to the environment of the Caucasus from hosting the Olympic Games in Sochi National Park. There are further unresolved issues regarding the protected area."
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. See: www.iucnredlist.org
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