Bobsleigh track makes way for mountain goat

Conservationists have praised the decision to move a number of venues for the 2014 winter Olympics in Russia to avoid damaging a protected site.

The United Nations and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had raised fears earlier this year that events such as the bobsleigh, the luge and the biathlon could endanger the area.

The proposed site for the 2014 Games in Sochi, in south-west Russia, lies just south of a UNESCO Western Caucasus World Heritage Site.

It is one of the only European mountain areas nearly untouched by human activity and is home to rare and endangered species such as the West Caucasian tur, a mountain-dwelling goat antelope.

Russian ministers and the country’s Olympic Organising Committee announced that the construction of the sliding centre and the Olympic Village will be moved following the protests from ecologists.

Announcing the decision, the committee said it was “committed to creating an environmental legacy for the future of the region”.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was among those who welcomed the news.

“The decision to move the Sochi Olympic venues away from the Caucasus reserve is a significant step forward on the road to green the Games in 2014,” he said.

Julia Marton-Lefèvre, director general of the IUCN, said: “The decision to move some events and construction away from the World Heritage site is an encouraging sign from the Russian authorities.

“The Olympic spirit is well served when nature conservation is taken into consideration.”

She added: “Protecting nature should not be something we do only when it is convenient. By modifying its plans for such a major project, Russia is doing the right thing.”

Kate Martin

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