Oslo’s Olympic bid draws more fire

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Not even the former sponsor chief for Norway’s largest bank, Jacob Lund, thinks it’s a good idea for Oslo to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, while city officials and Olympic (OL) boosters are being roundly criticized over their promotional strategy, their budgets and how a voter referendum on the issue has been carried out. Criticism over the Olympics as an event itself is also under fire, with many suggesting the Games have become overly lavish affairs whose time has passed.

Few if any have raised more money for Norwegian athletics than Lund, who was behind Den Norske Bank’s major sponsorship of sports for 20 years. He’s still working as a sponsor consultant and thinks Oslo voters should vote “no” on the city’s OL referendum. Lund wrote in a commentary on business web site E24, and told newspaper Aftenposten, that the lack of national political commitment to the project worries him and doesn’t bode well for an Olympics that would demand “insane” amounts of money.

A matter of priorities
He thinks budget estimates for an OL drawn up by consulting firm Ernst & Young, of NOK 47.5 billion (nearly USD 8 billion) are more realistic than the NOK 20 billion to NOK 30 billion that boosters say will be needed. “And I want to know how the politicians will then set their priorities,” Lund told Aftenposten. “The political silence on this (from state politicians who will have to post a financial guarantee for an OL) is deafening.”

Meanwhile, the few state politicians who have expressed an opinion on the Oslo2022 Olympic project are mostly opposed, in line with public opinion polls that have showed opposition by a majority of voters. Siv Jensen, leader of the Progress Party, said Thursday she’d already voted “no” in advance, while not even the Members of Parliament from the same parties leading the city politicians’ effort support the project. MP Michael Tetzschner of Høyre, Hans Olav Syversen of the Christian Democrats and Trine Skei Grande of Venstre have either said “no” or that they’re skeptical towards using so much money on an OL.

A majority  of Oslo high school students voting in the traditional and symbolic schools elections, however, voted “yes” on the OL referendum. That prompted boosters like Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang and national athletics boss Børre Rognlien to claim that their parents and other adults should listen to the “optimism” of youth and not rob them of the chance to experience an Olympics.

Olympics ‘no longer needed’
Lund also lent more credibility to claims from persons like a former national team coach for the Norwegian athletic association (Friidrettsforbundet), Håkon Lutdal, who recently wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen that the Olympics represent “a distasteful waste of money” that the sports world no longer needs. Lutdal argues that the amateur athletics that once characterized the Olympics are long gone, and that the other Olympic ideals of fellowship among nations and the various branches of sport are “pure nonsense.” He claims “money and media” control sports now, and that the current system of World Championships and World Cup events is more than enough to gather athletes for international competition.

Lutdal went so far as to write that the Olympics “disturbs” the intervals of the world championships and that while the much-praised Olympics at Lillehammer were famously dubbed “the  best ever,” he thinks the upcoming Olympics in Russia should be “the last ever.”

Legal scolding as well
On a local level, a respected law professor at the University of Oslo, Eivind Smith, told newspaper Morgenbladet that the city’s unabashed promotion of the OL project was “unforgivable.” Smith claims the city’s so-called “information meetings” and especially a video billed as merely an informative overview of the OL plans were highly promotional instead of impartial as he thinks they should have been. He demanded last week that the city drop its “pure propaganda,” cease mixing up its role as a planner with that of promoter, and “respect democratic rules” around a referendum.

Boosters, meanwhile, have been on the offense this past week, with the biggest amongst them from former Olympic medalists like Bjørn Dæhlie and Kjetil André Aamodt to Oddvar Brå and business celebrities like Petter Stordalen actively campaigning on the streets to win voter support. They’ve sought to remind Oslo voters what the Olympics in Lillehammer in 1994 meant for Norway and claim it’s time to host another OL again. Others disagree, claiming that other countries interested in hosting an OL, like Germany and Slovakia, should get their chance.

Questionable support nationwide
Norwegians outside of Oslo were also questioning the OL boosters’ campaign strategy for getting city residents to vote “yes” on the referendum, which claims that an OL in Oslo will amount to “a pure gift” from the state because of the state guarantee needed to finance it. That doesn’t necessarily go down well with taxpayers in the rest of the country, who fear Oslo will get far too many millions at their expense.

The OL referendum is being held in conjunction with the parliamentary election on Monday, but expatriate residents of Oslo are also eligible to vote if they’ve legally been in the country for at least three years.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund