Public still rejects an Oslo Olympics

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Olympic fever among Norwegians in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Games opening this week has failed to drum up public support for an Olympics in Oslo in 2022. Opposition remains strong to the City of Oslo’s plans to host a Winter OL, especially in Northern Norway.

Oslo's east side stands to get the most redevelopment from an Olympics in 2022, as shown in this architect's rendition of plans for an Olympic Village and media center in the district of Grouddalen. PHOTO: OSLO2022/Oslo kommune/Snøhetta

An architect’s rendition of plans for an Olympic Village and media center in the district of Grouddalen has already been criticized as being too expensive, and would likely be moved to the city’s Økern district if politicians move forward with the unpopular Winter Olympics project. PHOTO: OSLO2022/Oslo kommune/Snøhetta

A new public opinion poll conducted by research firm Norstat for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) shows that 55 percent of those questioned last week answered “no” when asked whether Oslo and the Lillehammer region should host the Winter Olympics eight years from now. Only 38 percent answered “yes,” while 7 percent had no opinion.

It’s the latest in a series of polls conducted over the Olympic issue, and shows a slight increase in opposition and a decline in support. A similar poll conducted in November showed 53 percent opposed and 40 percent in favour, while one just a few weeks ago also showed a majority opposed to the state guaranteeing a Winter Olympics’ finances.

Eli Grimsby, director of the Oslo2022 project, conceded that support for an Olympics should be higher but seemed determined to move ahead with the project. “I think we have a challenge, to travel around the country and talk about our concept,” Grimsby told NRK on Tuesday.

79 percent opposed in Northern Norway
Opposition in Northern Norway remains massive, with fully 79 percent responding negatively in NRK’s poll. That’s up from 73 percent in the November poll and 75 percent in a January poll.

Support has also declined in Oslo, where a majority voted in favour of a Winter Olympics in a referendum carried out in conjunction with the parliamentary elections. Voter turnout was low in the referendum, though, and now the new poll shows that 49 percent are opposed, more than those in favour.

Not a single region in Norway had a majority in favour of an Olympics, with 54 percent opposed in Central Norway, 58 percent in Western Norway, 48 percent in Eastern Norway and 57 percent in Southern Norway including Telemark County, dubbed as the “Cradle of Skiing” in Norway.

Only 32 percent supported an Olympics in Western Norway, 38 percent in Central Norway, 41 percent in Southern Norway and Telemark and 46 percent in Eastern Norway.

Put off by costs and corruption
Many thought support would rise as the upcoming Olympics drew closer and Norwegian enthusiasm for their own athletes, several of whom are expected to bring home medals, would drum up Olympic spirit. Instead, athletic officials admit that the huge costs, environmental damage and corruption tied to the Sochi Olympics in Russia have set off warning lights and given the Olympics a bad name.

Børre Rognlien, president of Norway’s national athletics federation, told NRK on Tuesday afternoon that he and his fellow boosters need to get out the word that an Olympics in Norway would be very different than the one due to play out soon in Sochi. He claims it would a much more modest and environmentally friendly Winter Games in a country where corruption isn’t nearly as big a problem as in Russia.

Norwegians still worry about the costs, given chronic budget overruns in other Olympics over the years and also at the otherwise successful Winter Games at Lillehammer in 1994. Its initial budget was less than NOK 2 billion, but Gerhard Heiberg, a Norwegian member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who headed the Lillehammer Games, admitted that rose to more than NOK 8 billion by the time it was over. In that sense, Sochi’s budget overrun is no greater in proportional terms (from the equivalent of NOK 70 billion to more than NOK 300 billiion).

Oslo2022’s budget estimate of around NOK 30 billion has been certified by external experts, but so were Sochi’s and Lillehammer’s, said Heiberg. He nonetheless has been a big booster of the Oslo2022 project and arguably initiated it during the Nordic World Championships in Oslo in 2011. He’s had to admit that many other countries have lost interest in bidding for the Olympics, with serious contenders like Switzerland, Germany and Sweden dropping out because of a lack of public support at home. If Norway’s state parliament approves putting up a financial guarantee for the Olympics in 2022, Oslo seems almost sure to get it from a probably relieved IOC.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund