01/30/2014 01:21 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2014

8 Better Ways Russia Could Have Spent Its Olympic Billions

Michael Heiman via Getty Images

For the record, we have nothing against the Olympics. It is a noble, ancient tradition, full of camaraderie, sportsmanship and healthy competition. (At least in theory.)

One of the downsides of this "healthy competition," though, is the increasingly exorbitant price tag host countries pay to put on the games -- relying on private donors and taxpayers to foot the bill.

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi are no exception. In fact Russia may take the medal for the most expensive Olympic games ever, beating out China, which spent a whopping $40 billion on the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Just how much Russia has spent is the subject of fierce debate. On the high end, two of Russian President Vladimir Putin's harshest critics have estimated the Sochi price tag at $51 billion and $45.8 billion, respectively, accusing government officials and various contractors of having embezzled billions. Putin, however, offered a much lower number in a recent interview, arguing that the government has only spent $6.4 billion so far.

The $51 billion number stems from a 2013 report by politician Boris Nemtsov and journalist Leonid Martynyuk, in which they estimate that more than $25 to $35 billion has been lost to corruption.

The $45.8 billion figure was compiled by opposition leader Alexei Navalny's Foundation for Fighting Corruption and published in a January 2014 report. The organization's report also argued that on a minimum of 10 projects related to the Olympics, the cost has been inflated at least 1.5 to 2.5 times, and that the majority of "private" investors in the games have ties to the federal government.

Echoing Putin's estimate, the official Sochi Olympics Committee told The Huffington Post that the construction and engineering costs for the Olympic venues amounted to $6 billion, with an added $2 billion for organizing costs.

Putin and other government officials have argued that the opposition reports are misleading because some of the costs they factor in can be attributed to infrastructure investments that would have been made either way. An $8.6 billion highway is one example, about which Nemtsov commented, "You could have paved this road with 5 million tons of gold or caviar and the price would have been the same."

Either way, these infrastructure investments don't seem to be trickling down to the people actually living in Sochi and surrounding areas, which brings up a billion-dollar question:

If Russian officials and investors truly had $50 billion sitting in the bank, are the Olympics really the best way to have spent it? Here's our humble suggestion of eight better ways Russia could have handed out the money and done some good for the world:

8 Ways Russia Could Have Spent $50 Billion