Fired Sochi 2014 Official ‘Not Scapegoat’

MOSCOW, February 9 (R-Sport) – President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman rejected claims Saturday that an official who was fired after criticism from Putin is merely a scapegoat for problems at the world’s most expensive Olympics.

Akhmed Bilalov was removed as vice-chairman of the Russian Olympic Committee on Thursday after Putin criticized him for his work in a previous job in charge of the RusSki Gorki Olympic ski jump complex, which was slated for completion in 2011 but is not expected to be ready until July.

The timing of the announcement attracted claims Bilalov had been made a scapegoat, coming exactly a year before the opening ceremony and days after the government revealed the games would cost over $50 billion.

“There’s no need to approach this story as an exemplary whipping,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“It’s not about campaigning or making someone a scapegoat. Someone who bears responsibility for failure must bear it, but the main thing is to work through all the terms of completion for the [Olympic] facilities.”

Bilalov was the head of a company named Krasnaya Polyana that was responsible for the ski jump complex before May 2012, when state bank Sberbank bought a controlling share in the firm.

While in charge of the ski jump complex, Bilalov failed to pay sufficient attention to geological problems that affected construction, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said Thursday.

Bilalov, a former parliamentarian for the ruling United Russia party, was also fired as head of a government company managing ski resorts in the North Caucasus.

He is also head of the Russian Golf Association, which is putting together a Russian team for the sport’s debut at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. His future in that post was not immediately clear.

Test events planned at the RusSki Gorki jump facility last year were cancelled amid construction delays, but the site has hosted World Cup ski jumping and Nordic combined this season.

The center is situated on the northern slope of the Aibaga Ridge in the mountains above Sochi. The ramps are located at the junction of two ridges to protect athletes from sidewinds that could pose serious problems during competition.

A 2,500-meter-long ski track for the Nordic combined event is next to the jumps.

The Games start February 7 next year.

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