A major mobilization by sports stars and bureaucrats, tourism and business interests and local athletics organizations was getting the credit (or blame) on Tuesday for managing to turn the tide of public opinion against hosting the Winter Olympics in Oslo in 2022. Polls this summer had indicated that nearly 60 percent of Oslo residents opposed hosting an Olympics, but city election officials could report a majority in favour of the project on Tuesday morning.
When results of a referendum on the controversial issue were finally tallied after a bout of technical trouble during the night, the city reported that 172,837 voted “yes” to the single question of whether the City of Oslo should apply to host what Norwegians call “Vinter OL” in 2022. Another 140,982 voted “no” while 9,519 voted “blank.” That can mean that they had no opinion on the matter but wanted to take part in the referendum, a form of political consultation seldom used in Norway. Some view “blank” votes as a form of protest as well.
The total number of persons voting (323,338) also represents a majority of Oslo’s population. The vast majority of individual precincts reporting also showed “yes” votes beating out the “no” votes with a few curious exceptions, like the Jordal precinct (near the site of an old ice rink used in the Olympics in 1952 and likely to be rebuilt for a Winter Games in 2022) and the Ullevål precinct (located near the site of Norway’s national football stadium and the headquarters of national sports organizations). Other precincts voting against the OL project were mostly inner-city, but also included Marienlyst, home of the headquarters for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), which would be heavily involved in an Olympics.
For detailed OL voting results compiled by city election officials, click here (external link, mostly in Norwegian).
The powerful sports officials who campaigned hard for the OL project were predictably pleased by the results, while those worried about its enormous costs were disappointed. Bjørnar Moxnes of the Reds party, who was among the most active opponents, noted that public sentiment changed dramatically in the final days of the campaign, with so many now supporting a project that’s expected to cost at least NOK 34 billion, given the size of the financial guarantee sought from the state.
“There’s been a massive campaign from the ‘yes’ side during the past two weeks,” Moxnes told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “They’ve been backed by the athletics federation, celebrities and public relations firms. I would have been surprised if all that hadn’t had any effect.”
State will ultimately decide
The fate of any final Olympic bid, though, is up to the state government since it needs to guarantee financing. Public sentiment nationwide has been opposed and Siv Jensen, the leader of the Progress Party who may become Norway’s next finance minister, has already said she voted against the project in the Oslo referendum.
The city officials planning the event will nonetheless continue their efforts for now, and must officially report their interest in hosting an Olympics to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) by November 14. A formal application is due by March 14, and the Parliament must approve a financial guarantee by January 2015.
The IOC will announce the venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralymics on July 31, 2015.