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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Games Spreading More Ill Will Than Good

ST. PETERSBURG -- You're stuck in traffic. Or your paycheck is late. Or you've noticed that lately, when the sun goes down, the lights do not go on. Who or what is responsible for all this madness? If you're a citizen of St. Petersburg, chances are you blame Ted Turner and the 1994 Goodwill Games. Coming to the city next month, the games have required preparations that have turned life in this city of five million upside down. Turner, the founder of CNN, created the Goodwill Games after politically inspired boycotts kept apart athletes from the United States and the Soviet Union. The Games were held in Moscow in 1986 and Seattle in 1990; on both occasions Turner lost millions. But for the host city the Games are an enormous cash gift. A study in Seattle suggested the Games brought in $150 million to the local economy. Moreover, the relentlessly positive coverage of the host city that accompanies such sporting events usually guarantees a tourism boom for several years. All of this would be welcome in this year's host city, St. Petersburg. The local government is running an enormous deficit. Foreign tourists, terrified by crime horror stories in the Western press, are pushing the tsarist capital further down their list of vacation destinations. Turner's pledge to spend up to $70 million on the 1994 Games -- roughly two-thirds of the cost, much of which will be used to repair the city's sagging infrastructure -- further sweetens the deal. But as the July 23 opening nears, most Petersburgers have little to say about the Games that is positive. Long-overdue road repairs have created downtown traffic snarls and put curses on the lips of many a cab driver. Shabby palaces and run-down buildings are getting shiny new fa?ades, but the improvements are often derided as rushed "Potemkin villages" -- a reference to the fake villages Grigory Potemkin erected to fool his lover, Catherine the Great, into admiring the prosperity of his lands. To speed preparations for the Games' July 23 opening, Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, the Games' most ardent supporter, has reinstated the Communist tradition of ***subbotniki***, volunteer Saturdays. As before, most of the volunteer work is coerced: Sobchak has threatened harsh fines for businesses whose workers aren't raking leaves or sweeping streets by 8 A.M. every Saturday. Not only are the Games ruining a lot of people's weekends, they are being cursed as the cause of much of the usual chaos of life in Russia. Chronically late government paychecks are suddenly being blamed on the Games on grounds that they have sucked local coffers dry. In May, when city officials turned off street lights -- plunging St. Petersburg into nightmarish darkness -- the Games were again the reason. Street lights are usually shut off in June, when the White Nights make up the difference. But the local electrical company shut them off a month early this year, hoping to save 80 million rubles (roughly $40,000). The electric company's director pleaded for understanding and urged locals not to go out after dark. "I can't even see the cars, much less the license plates," said Capt. Nikolai Kuznetsov of the traffic police, sitting glumly in a parked Ford on pitch-black Moskovsky Prospekt, the city's main north-south road. "They're saving every kopeck for these Goodwill Games." Sobchak's political opponents complain that the mayor is using public money to throw a party for foreigners. The city's Green Party, meanwhile, worries about trees being cut down to widen playing fields, and wonders if worthy environmental programs will lose funding to track and field events.And then there is AIDS. The city's chief specialist on infectious diseases, Aza Rakhmanova, said that the arrival of 80,000 foreign tourists could ignite a serious epidemic of the deadly disease in Russia. "Too many people are coming, and you can't check them all beforehand," Rakhmanova said.