Inside Lines: Sochi countdown could well end in a soggy meltdown


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The Independent Online

Qatar is not the only nation due to host a major international sports event sweating over the weather. While the controversy surrounding their football World Cup, scheduled for the summer of 2022, approaches boiling point there is now growing concern over the climate for next February's Winter Olympics in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Ironically, it may not be cold enough. Forget any prospect of a bitter Russian winter sending a chill through competitors; apparently the long-range forecast predicts it will be well above freezing point at what is not a natural winter resort. Indeed Sochi, which has a sub-tropical climate for most of the year – it reminded me of Cannes with caviar when I was there a couple of years ago – was a surprise choice by an International Olympic Committee swayed by the persuasive presence of President Putin when the vote was taken in Guatemala. The average February temperature of Sochi is usually 10 degrees above freezing. Last February it was 18.5 (66 Fahrenheit) and several test events were cancelled.

The current forecast suggests it may be even higher, with the possibility of heavy rain a huge threat to the skiing and sledding events. After similar conditions hampered the last Winter Olympics in balmy Vancouver, the IOC have been well aware of the potential weather risks to Sochi – which seem far greater to a successful Games than security, overspending or protests against Russia's rigid anti-gay laws.

Snow cannons will be on stand-by in the nearby Caucasus Mountains which form a scenic backdrop to the resort, but experts acknowledge it will be difficult to produce sufficient artificial snow at that temperature when it is also raining. Not-so-cold comfort for Putin's grandiose Games plan.

A Hugh loss

No doubt Hugh Robertson will be passing on some sage advice to his surprise successor as sports minister, the hitherto little-known Helen Grant. They are friends and constituency neighbours in Kent and there is sure to be some card-marking about future difficult dealings with the consistently obstructive football bodies, a sport with which the former schoolgirl judo champ is relatively unfamiliar.

Sport will miss Robertson (though there may be some relieved hand-clapping at the FA, the Premier League and Fifa). In my view he has been outstanding in a long line of sports ministers, certainly the best the Tories have ever sent into bat in their cricket team of incumbents, playing the bowling as straight as the answers he always gave the media.

In almost a decade as shadow spokesman and then minister, Robertson, 50, had turned down previous offers of a more senior role in Government but elevation to the Foreign Office as a Minister of State obviously was the one he couldn't refuse in terms of career advancement. It is rare for a sports minister to go onwards and upwards to higher office. For most it has been a bit of a dead-end job. Robertson deserves to be an exception.

Frank assessment

Frank Maloney has retired hurt from the sport he says he is no longer in love with. Hardly surprising, as the pint-sized boxing promoter has suffered more vicissitudes outside the ring than most fighters ever do inside it. He never recovered from discovering Darren Sutherland, his Olympic medallist signing, hanging in a London flat.

Maloney, 60, says he has "grown tired of all the bulls***" and it may be no coincidence that he quit on his stool soon after Lennox Lewis, whom he famously took to the world heavyweight title, was reportedly offering to make a comeback at 48 and fight Wladimir Klitschko for £100 million. Lewis now says it was "hypothetical". It was certainly hype, though Maloney has a better word for it

Gay Paree

Revenge at last for Paris after the loss of the 2012 Olympics to London. It has won the 2018 Gay Games against bids from both London and Limerick. Gay Paree indeed.