Olympic vote may exclude foreigners

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Foreigners living in Oslo with permanent Norwegian residence status may be excluded from an upcoming referendum on an Olympics in Oslo, even though they otherwise have full rights to vote in local elections. That means more than 50,000 taxpayers, many of whom have lived and worked in Norway for years, wouldn’t get to express their opinion on whether the city should spend billions on the enormous sporting event.

The City of Oslo had to cover most of the costs of building the new Holmenkollen Ski Jump needed to host last year’s Nordic skiing World Championships. Budget overruns were enormous, with little state funding, so some Oslo politicians and residents are wary about committing to an Olympics. Holmenkollen is also expected to be used in an Olympics in 2022, but may need further improvements by then. PHOTO: Ski VM/Stian Broch

Since the referendum is to be held in conjunction with next autumn’s national elections, Oslo residents who don’t hold Norwegian citizenship risk not being permitted to take part. Only Norwegian citizens are allowed to vote in national elections called Stortingsvalg, which decide formation of the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget).

Sparking new debate
The issue has left politicians quarreling again, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Thursday morning. The so-called “OL-referendum” was only approved this week as part of a budget compromise among the already-bickering non-socialist political parties, after the Progress Party insisted that Oslo taxpayers be allowed to vote on whether they think an Olympics is worth the money it will cost. While some politicians are enthusiastic about the prospect of another Olympics in Oslo (the first was held in 1952, followed by one in Lillehammer in 1994), others think the billions of kroner needed to fund it would be better spent on new nursing homes, schools, health care and other public services for which local governments are responsible. They’re backed by various “anti-OL” movements emerging, not least on social media.

The Progress Party, which already has managed to derail plans by the city’s Conservative-led government coalition to build a new Munch Museum on Oslo’s eastern waterfront, thus managed to get the Conservatives and the two other non-socialist parties (the Liberals and the Christian Democrats) to go along with its referendum demand, in order to get the city’s overall budget for next year approved. “We believe it’s completely natural that it be up to the city’s residents, the taxpayers, who will be the ones actually financing the whole party,” Mayzar Keshvari of the Progress Party told TV2 earlier this week.

Participation technicalities
Now, though, the Progress Party doesn’t seem to think it’s so important that all legal residents of the city be allowed to take part. By wrapping the issue into the national elections, the party cleared the way for more than 50,000 immigrants with legal, permanent residence in Norway (oppholdstillatelse) to be excluded since they’ve maintained citizenship in their native countries. Norway, unlike many other countries such as the US, in principle doesn’t allow dual citizenship and demands would-be citizens to revoke their original passports. Many immigrants who maintain ties to their home countries don’t want to do that and thus can only vote in local elections in Norway.

The OL referendum is arguably just that, and a spokesman for the Conservatives told NRK’s district radio in Oslo Thursday morning that he thinks all Oslo residents should be allowed to vote in it as they can in other local elections, so debate is already underway.

The referendum has raised many other questions that also need to be answered before it’s held, regarding proposed participation by residents of other counties where Olympic events would be held or even nationwide participation. Oslo, however, remains the civic entity ultimately responsible for the bill and it’s been burned on earlier major sports projects, such as when it had to absorb huge budget overruns on construction of the Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Bislett Stadium, often considered “national” facilities but with little state funding.

Transit issues, too, and bidding competition
Meanwhile, officials at Oslo’s metropolitan public transportation system, Ruter, have raised another red flag over holding an Olympics in Oslo. They advise against it, unless massive improvements are made to the metro lines serving Holmenkollen (where several Olympic events are likely to be held) and other areas around the capital. They lack capacity to carry the thousands of people who would be trying to get up to the sporting events, pointing to the problems that occurred when Oslo hosted last year’s Nordic Skiing World Championships at Holmenkollen.

Oslo also looks likely to have competition for any Olympics from the canton of Graubünden in Switzerland. Its elected officials reportedly have approved funding for both an application to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and a financial guarantee to conduct the games. Swiss officials have held two Olympics in the past, at St Moritz in 1928 and 1948, and have both the financial muscle, sports traditions and, apparently, willingness to do it again.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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