Oslo to pursue an Olympic bid

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The Oslo City Council agreed on Wednesday to fund efforts to apply for another Winter Olympics in the Norwegian capital. The application process alone is now expected to cost taxpayers around NOK 130 million, and work actually began months ago.

Oslo hosted a successful Nordic skiing world championships last year, and now is formally setting its sights on an Olympics in 2022. PHOTO: Tore Afdal/SkiVM

The media hype, not least in major Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, has been underway since just before Oslo hosted the Nordic skiing world championships last year. That’s when the longtime Norwegian member of the International Olympic Committee, Gerhard Heiberg, started planting the idea that Norway should host another Olympics, and that it should be in Oslo.

Critics immediately started raising objections about the enormous costs involved, how investment in Olympic facilities rarely pays off financially, and how the funding needed for an Olympics would come at the expense of other public needs. At a time when it’s still a challenge to approve budgets for new nursing homes, schools and massive investment in infrastructure as Oslo’s population grows, many don’t view funding for an Olympics as a priority.

The skepticism was illustrated in a recent public opinion poll in which nearly 40 percent of Norwegians questioned said they don’t want the government to back an Olympics. Heiberg, who played a major role in Norway’s last Olympics, at Lillehammer in 1994, was disappointed by the poll and thus likely pleased by the Oslo City Council vote on Wednesday. Local politicians clearly disregarded the poll conducted for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) in April and voted 52 to seven in favour of moving forward with work on a bid for the Winter Olympics in 2022.

The only politicians voting against were from the Socialist Left party (SV), the environmentally oriented party Miljøpartiet De Grønne and the left-wing Rødt party. “An Olympics can be fun, there’s no question about that,” said Bjørnar Moxnes of Rødt, according to news bureau NTB. “But there are far too many expenses tied to an arrangement like this. We must not forget that Oslo faces major investment and large population growth in the coming years. We therefore don’t need more prestigious facilities.”

Vote exceeded expectations
But his was the lone voice in the wilderness. The city council’s voting result exceeded the expectations of sports bureaucrats in Norway pushing for an Olympics and the taxpayer money they need to mount one. “It couldn’t have been any better,” Børre Rognlien, president of the Norwegian athletics association Norges idrettsforbund, told NRK.

With many countries facing huge budget and finance crises, not least Greece, which hosted a Summer Olympics not long ago, Heiberg and the IOC may well be relieved that politicians in a wealthy country like Norway are willing to pursue an Olympic bid. He and other promoters have come close to suggesting that Norway has an international obligation to host an Olympics, and should be generous enough to do so.

Norway’s athletics associations still need to make a formal ruling on an Olympic application themselves, but that seems largely a formality. They’ll vote at an extraordinary meeting called to handle the issue in Stjørdal this weekend, and likely will approve it.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Wednesday that a majority of the sports organizations favour a bid, although the swimmers and bandy players are opposed, as are some others who cite too many unknown factors. The government minister in charge of sports and culture, Anniken Huitfeldt from the Labour Party, will also attend the meeting this weekend and tell the organizations how much money they’ll need to contribute.

The next step will be for the City of Oslo to apply for a state funding guarantee, even though no one seems to know how many billions will be needed yet. The Oslo City Council must then, sometime during the first half of 2013 decide whether to actually submit a formal application to the IOC. The application deadline is in the spring of 2014. A formal economic guarantee from the government, if one is forthcoming as expected, would then be sent in early 2015. The IOC will announce its decision on the host city for the Winter Olympics in 2022 in July of 2015.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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