PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin has fired a top Russian Olympic official after publicly ridiculing him on a visit to half-finished sports complexes planned for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, a project dogged by reports of corruption and construction delays.
The humiliation of Akhmed Bilalov, 42, stamped Mr Putin’s authority on the Games and underlined the importance he attaches to a global event he hopes will show how far Russia has come since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
In a vintage performance, reminiscent of an all-powerful tsar sweeping through town in imperial times, Mr Putin became angry when he heard of the rising costs and construction delays at the ski-jump complex Mr Bilalov had been involved in.
Unsmiling and sarcastic, he scolded the official in front of television cameras at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, then sacked him as vice-president of Russia’s Olympic committee. “How is it possible that the vice-president of the Olympic committee is delaying development?” Mr Putin said after touring Sochi, which has become a huge construction site.
As Mr Bilalov squirmed in the background, he added: “Well done. You are really working well.”
The dismissal overshadowed a day of festivities as Russia unveiled huge diamond-shaped clocks in Moscow, Sochi and six other cities counting the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the opening of the Games a year from now.
Deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak made clear Mr Bilalov was also likely to lose his job on the board of a state firm created to develop luxury resorts. “People who do not fulfil their obligations on such a scale cannot lead the Olympic movement in our country,” Mr Kozak said in Sochi, a popular tourist destination for Russians.