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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Olympic boosters downplay deficit

The Oslo politicians and sports officials keen to mount a bid for the Winter Olympics in 2022 were fending off a new wave of opposition this week. Critics claim the Olympics will leave Oslo with a huge budget deficit, angry organizers of an earlier Olympic bid in Tromsø are staging an uproar, and even the plans for a new biathlon stadium are being bashed.

Olympics bid
An artist’s concept of crowds gathered in front of Oslo’s City Hall during a Winter Olympics in 2022. Not everyone is as enthusiastic as those portrayed in the illustration used by the city for promotional purposes. PHOTO: Oslo 2022/Oslo kommune

Meanwhile, the head of Norway’s hockey federation has been threatening to boycott an Olympics in Oslo in 2022 unless hockey gets a much bigger hall in which to hold matches. Ole-Jacob Libæk of Norges Hockeyforbundet is not at all happy with plans presented so far for the hockey facilities, and told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he has support for a boycott from the international hockey federation.

It’s the sheer costs and projected budget for the Oslo organizers’ so-called “Games in the City” that were causing the biggest fuss this week, though. City officials themselves presented figures that resulted in a budget deficit of at least NOK 9 billion (USD 1.5 billion) and it’s likely to be a lot more than that given the city’s track record of huge budget overruns on major construction projects.

The city politicians eager to host an Olympics think the cost will be worth it, arguing in favour of the intangible values that a Winter Games could provide through promotion of both the city and the country, improved physical and mental health among residents, job creation and a reason to push through badly needed infrastructure improvements and housing development.

Three of the key men pushing for a Winter Olympics in Oslo in 2022 faced plenty of opposition this week. From left, city government politician in charge of parks and recreation Ola Elvestuen, the head of the national athletics associatin Børre Rognlien and city government chief Stian Berger Røsland. PHOTO: Oslo 2022/Oslo kommune
Three of the key men pushing for a Winter Olympics in Oslo in 2022 faced plenty of opposition this week. From left, city government politician in charge of parks and recreation Ola Elvestuen, the head of the national athletics association Børre Rognlien, and city government chief Stian Berger Røsland. PHOTO: Oslo 2022/Oslo kommune

Ola Elvestuen, the city politician from the Liberal Party (Venstre) who’s among the key promoters of what the Norwegians call simply “OL” in Oslo, claims that the “value of good experiences” and other intangibles like “overall city development” and “dialogue and integration” must be included in the accounts, and they would reduce the actual gap between costs and revenues. Critics lashed back that Elvestuen was resorting to “voodoo economics,” and that the deficit would threaten other more important city services.

Elvestuen was determined to put a positive spin on the new analysis showing a projected deficit of at least NOK 9 billion-12.5 billion. “I think it’s worth it,” Elvestuen told reporters on Monday. “Winter sports create considerable enthusiasm and commitment among most folks, and that also should be reflected in the total accounting.”

Nonsense, retorted one of the few Oslo politicians opposed to hosting an Olympics, Bjørner Moxnes of the left-wing Reds party (Rødt). “I think it’s nice that Elvestuen wants to include the coziness and fun factors on the plus-side of an OL budget, but this is simply not serious,” Moxnes told NRK. “This is vooodoo economics.”

Olympics bid
Oslo’s so-called “Games in the City” would be centered in the eastern district of Groruddalen, where new stadiums, an Olympic Village and press center would be built. Nordic events would be held up at Holmenkollen, figure skating out at Telenor Arena at Fornebu and awards ceremonies probably downtown, but alpine skiing and the bobsled events would be back up in Lillehammer and at Kvitfjell, a roughly three-hour trip north of Oslo. PHOTO: Oslo 2022/Oslo kommune

Hans Mathias Thjømøe, an assistant professor at Oslo’s College of Marketing, also dismissed Elvestuen’s accounting effort. Thjømøe thinks the value of any so-called “Olympic effect” is strongly exaggerated among boosters like Elvestuen, International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Gerhard Heiberg and other sports bureaucrats. “There have been studies of whether an OL has any influence on intangibles, like a sense of community,” Thjømoe told NRK. “Normally there is a blossoming of such during the Games, it lasts a few weeks, and then folks go back to normal. That argument simply falls apart.”

Even the tangibles, like investment in public transport, are difficult to tie directly to an Olympics, Thjømøe said. “An OL can maybe lead to different priorities, but if the politicians really want to redevelop Groruddalen (an eastern district of Oslo in need of improvement) they can just do so instead,” he said. He doesn’t see why an Olympics is needed to justify such investment.

Northern revolt
As fresh debate broke out over the costs involved, Members of Parliament from northern Norway are still furious that Oslo officials and others in southern Norway torpedoed their own plans five years ago for an Olympics in Tromsø. They don’t like the prospect now of an OL in Oslo sailing through with only Norwegian citizens resident in Oslo allowed to vote on the matter in a referendum planned in conjunction with the September national elections. Not only will the referendum exclude the tens of thousands of non-citizens resident and paying taxes in Oslo, it will also exclude the rest of the country, despite Oslo’s need for a state guarantee for the project. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Tuesday that the so-called “Troms-bench” in Parliament wants a national referendum on the issue.

Even many residents of Groruddalen are questioning how much of a “lift” an Olympics would bring them, and a campaign is growing among those opposed to building a new biathlon course and stadium between Linderud and Rødtvedt on Oslo’s east side. Some feel it will destroy the nature in the area, and not even the local ski club wants it.

Stoltenberg non-committal
Sports officials met with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the minister in charge of sports and culture, Hadia Tajik last week, to launch talks on state financial guarantees needed in an application to the International Olympic Committee. Stoltenberg seemed positive towards an Olympics in Oslo.

“This is a large and important issue,” he said. “As trade minister, it was a joy to be in Lillehammer during the Olympics in 1994. OL made me proud to be Norwegian.” Stoltenberg was otherwise non-committal, claiming that a new OL would need “quality assurances” and that he’d refrain from further comment on the initial concepts until a formal application for guarantees is presented.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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