Snow leopards and the art of Olympic environmental diplomacy

The Reuters global sports blog

June 23rd, 2009

Posted by: Karolos Grohmann There is an art in dealing with environmental issues when preparing to host Olympic Games.Athens for example, while preparing to host the 2004 Olympics, decided to construct the rowing venue inside a protected nature reserve and just a few hundred metres from the historic site of the ancient battle of Marathon. Environmental groups were up in arms for years before organisers said while they would build the venue there they would also save a rare fish (which looked more like a frog) living in the tiny creeks of the nature reserve. The rowing centre was built and after the Games it was never used again because of environmental restrictions.Russian organisers of the 2014 Winter Olympics are no different.Sochi had planned to construct the bobsled, luge and skeleton venue and a mountain Olympic village in a part of the Krasnaya Polyana mountains bordering a Unesco World Heritage Site, including the Caucasus State Biosphere Nature Reserve.Environmentalists claimed the construction would irreparably damage the fragile natural balance of the area. After much deliberation and mounting pressure, including from the United Nations Environmental Programme, it was decided that the venues had to be moved before more concerns about the impact of the Games in the area started to surface.While what organisers themselves have called “maybe the biggest construction site in the world” is going ahead across the wider Sochi area, they have also highlighted their decision to reintroduce the snow leopard, a species that had been extinct for many decades in the region.An elaborate process of taking the same species of snow leopard from Turkmenistan, breeding it and then introducing the cubs in the mountains near Sochi is under way under the personal attention of the IOC’s chief inspector for Sochi, Jean-Claude Killy.It does make you wonder. If every organising committee of Olympic Games showed that much attention to environmental detail for their overall Games plan, instead of merely responding to the outcry of environmental groups, would there ever be any complaints from nature lovers?There’d certainly be a lot more wildlife.