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Clarkson professor studies impact of Olympics on Sochi

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POTSDAM - With his personal interest in the economics of sports and his education in business, topped off by his Slovenian heritage, Clarkson University School of Business Instructor Gasper Sekelj is the perfect choice to share his perspective on the impact of the Sochi Olympics.

On Feb. 20, he’ll be a member of a panel discussion sponsored by the Alexander Hamilton Society at St. Lawrence University. He and fellow panelists Howard Eissenstat of St. Lawrence and Jakub Grygiel of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies will each have a few minutes to talk about the economic, cultural and security impact that Sochi faces as a result of the Olympics.

The discussion is open to the public and begins at 7 p.m. in Hepburn Auditorium on the St. Lawrence campus. A question-and-answer period will follow the talk.

“The class I teach is economics and finance, but I have an ongoing interest in the economics of sports, and sports at the level we are discussing is a business. Micro economics and macro economics apply,” Sekelj says.

For the Feb. 20 discussion, Eissenstat will talk about history of the Caucasus region and the foundations of Islamic influences, while Grygiel will look further into security issues and talk about Russia on the global scene.

“These Olympics are filled with all kinds of issues about Russia, politics and security, so advance publicity has focused on those topics. Now that the games have started, the leading stories are about the athletes, not the hotels,” Sekelj notes. “The last winter Olympics were in Vancouver, where people were used to Western comforts. Now the games are in Russia. They do things differently.”

That cultural difference plays out on an economic level as well because unlike Vancouver or other cities that hosted the Olympics, Sochi requires new infrastructure - hotels, stadiums, etc.

“Sochi will see a very short-term bump in economic activity, with a lot of jobs being created, so hosting the Olympics is typically economically beneficial in the short term. The Olympics also create a big boost in promoting a specific country or region. They’re good for PR and marketing, especially if they go without a problem,” Sekelj notes.

“The Olympics now are costing well in excess of $50 billion, compared to approximately $3 billion for the Vancouver games, so the Russians are potentially taking on a lot of long-term debt. The majority of venues already existed in Vancouver. In Sochi, they have to do it from scratch so it’s expensive.”

Also worrisome, there won’t likely be a need for the hotels and huge sports venues after the Olympics, he said. Athens faced a similar situation regarding the summer games it hosted.

“They built 24 structures and now I think 21 of them are abandoned. They just don’t have the need for facilities of this size,” Sekelj says.

As a sports fan, he’s watching the games every chance he can. Sekelj is a former hockey player for Clarkson, and his father played on the Olympic hockey team for the former Yugoslavia in 1984. Slovenia became an independent country in 1991, so Sochi is the first time, since then, that his homeland has qualified for the Olympic hockey tournament. (Slovenia has competed in all of the Olympics since independence; however Sochi is the first time they are competing in hockey.)

“With a population of only 2 million, it’s a big accomplishment to have a team in the games,” he says. “I’ll be watching Slovenia’s first game - against the Russians.”

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