A vast majority of Norwegians don’t think their state government should approve an unlimited financial guarantee sought by organizers keen on mounting the Winter Olympics (OL) in Oslo in 2022. Negative response in a new public opinion poll comes just after an announcement that Norway will be sending its largest group of athletes ever to the upcoming Winter OL in Sochi, Russia.
The new poll was conducted by research firm Norstat for conservative magazine Minerva, which is also editorializing against the use of state funds to arrange a Winter Olympics. Organizers themselves have said it will cost around NOK 35 billion (nearly USD 6 billion) and its budgets have been certified by experts, while fears are running high that it will cost even more, possibly much more, with taxpayers left holding the bill.
Børre Rognlien, president of Norway’s national athletics federation and a major booster of the OL effort called Oslo2022, told newspaper Aftenposten that the new poll doesn’t reflect results of earlier polls, although there were clear signs of opposition last summer as well. It also defies results of a referendum in Oslo last fall in which a majority of voters supported the City of Oslo’s efforts to host the Winter Olympics.
Now, even in Oslo, most of those questioned were opposed to the idea of taxpayers guaranteeing to foot the Olympic bill. Nationwide, the opposition was stronger, with 58 percent saying the state should not agree to put up a financial guarantee for the Games and only 26 percent saying it should. Another 16 percent were undecided.
Opposition was overwhelming in some parts of the country like Northern Norway, where fully 75 percent answered “no” to the question of whether the state should go along with Oslo’s request for an “unlimited state guarantee to cover the costs of a Winter OL in Oslo in 2022.” Those being questioned were told that the public portion of the total bill was estimated to amount to between NOK 22 billion and NOK 24 billion.
Enthusiasm for a Winter OL in Oslo wasn’t high in western Norway either, reported Aftenposten, where only 17 percent supported a state guarantee and 69 percent were opposed. Support for the state financing was highest in Oslo, at 37 percent, but even in the capital, 49 percent were opposed.
While athletic interests and major Norwegian sports stars campaigned heavily in favour of Oslo2022 prior to last autumn’s referendum, there was virtually no campaign against an OL, pointed out Minerva editor Nils August Andresen, as he tried to explain how public sentiment could have shifted so much from the results of the referendum in September. Andresen also noted that voter participation in the referendum was low, telling Aftenposten that “therefore many both in and out of Oslo have not expressed their opinions” before now.
Rognlien and Oslo2022 director Eli Grimsby seemed undaunted by the negative public opinion poll, with Rognlien claiming that athletes and boosters would now launch a new lobbying effort. State politicians must approve or reject an OL guarantee by January. Since Stockholm dropped its own OL bid earlier this month, it’s likely the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will welcome and approve a bid from Norway.
Record large participation in Sochi
Meanwhile, Norway is sending a record number of 117 athletes to the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month, at a cost of around NOK 17 million, including Norway’s participation in the Paralympics right after OL. The number of athletes compares to 88 at the Winter Olympics at home in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994 and 99 at the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.
The numbers include new entrants in sports where Norway hasn’t been represented in years. Figure skater Anne Line Gjersem is the first Norwegian to qualify for the Olympics in 50 years, while Norway will also be mounting its first luge (sledding) team in 30 years.
Norway’s curling team will be back in action, outfitted in flashy costumes as always, while the largest concentration of Norwegian athletes will be in the skiing events. The men’s ice hockey team also amounts to a large delegation.
Norway will also be sending a women’s ski jumping team to the Olympics for the first time, with pioneering female ski jumper Anette Sagen winning an honorary invitation to the Sochi. She didn’t qualify for the OL team itself, but her role in getting OL officials to take women ski jumpers seriously and include them in OL competition was rewarded with the honorary ticket.