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Monday, March 4, 2024

Little support for Olympics in Oslo

Cheering crowds at last year’s world championships aside: Nearly 40 percent of Norwegians nationwide don’t want politicians to approve an effort by sports bureaucrats to host the Winter Olympics in Oslo in 2022. Opposition is also high among Oslo residents themselves, who fear the huge costs of mounting an Olympics will come at the expense of other public services.

Around half of all Norwegians want more cheering crowds in Oslo, like here at last year's Nordic world championships, at another Olympics in Oslo. Nearly 40 percent don't. PHOTO: Ski VM/Tore Afdal

The results of a public opinion poll conducted for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) have disappointed politicians and sports officials who are bullish on a new Olympics application. That includes Gerhard Heiberg, the Norwegian businessman who headed the successful Winter Olympics in Lillehammer in 1994. He went on to be a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and was among those launching the new push last year for what the Norwegians simply call “OL.” Heiberg’s initiative came just as Oslo was in the throes of hosting the Nordic skiing world championships, and winter sports fever was high.

It has since abated and Heiberg admitted to NRK that he was disappointed that fully 38 percent of Norwegians questioned are opposed to the idea of another OL in Norway. Opposition was strongest in northern Norway, where 45 percent said they don’t think the state should back an application for the Olympics in 2022. Around one in 10 Norwegians hadn’t made up their minds.

The poll indicated that 50 percent of all Norwegians questioned want to host the Olympics, not exactly overwhelming support for a project expected to cost at least NOK 29 billion (more than USD 5 billion at current exchange rates) and perhaps as much as NOK 50 billion, as newspaper Morgenbladet recently reported. Newspaper Aften reported last month that the application process alone, which is already underway, is expected to cost as much as NOK 150 million.

It’s a potential gold mine for consulting, marketing and public relations firms keen to cash in on an Olympic effort. Even though city officials aren’t due to make a final decision on an OL application until next month, a so-called “working group” of three persons is already working full-time to plan the foundation of an OL application, while various city agencies are also making preparations. Earlier efforts to host a winter OL in either Tromsø or Oslo cost nearly NOK 80 million, according to Morgenbladet.

The sheer costs involved seem to be what’s fueling the skepticism and opposition, prompting Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang to announce on NRK Thursday morning that he could all but guarantee an Olympics in Oslo won’t lead to cuts in other public services. He appeared uncomfortable when confronted with the poll results by NRK on Wednesday, since many politicians and Heiberg have been trying to drum up more enthusiasm for months.

They argue that a new OL will result in new sports facilities and infrastructure in a city with rapid population growth that needs such improvements in the long term. Heiberg has said he thinks Norway can afford to host an Olympics and that the chances Oslo would win are high. That, however, may be because many other potential host cities can’t afford or don’t want to spend the money on an Olympics that could leave them with heavy debt.

A state guarantee will be critical for a new OL effort to proceed, which is why Stang says Oslo residents themselves wouldn’t suffer. The state, he indicated, would end up picking up the bill  unlike the situation around the new Holmenkollen Ski Jump, which ran hundreds of millions over budget and is now costly to operate and maintain. Oslo taxpayers are having to pay for that.

Sports officials have already endorsed an OL bid and agreed to hold an extraordinary meeting, likely to formalize the endorsement, in June. City officials are due to vote on the issue May 23. A majority of politicians in both the city council (bystyret) and the city government (byrådet) had indicated support before the NRK poll was published. An application for a financial guarantee from the state would be due early next year.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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