Oslo leader still backs Olympics

Bookmark and Share

Oslo’s top city official didn’t seem to be having any second thoughts on Monday about mounting a Winter Olympics in Oslo, even after voters in Munich blocked their own politicians from doing so in a weekend referendum. A majority of Germans, like the Swiss before them, voted against hosting the Olympics on the grounds they’re too expensive and environmentally destructive.

Oslo city officials now have a green light to move forward with their plans to bid for the Winter Olympics in 2022. They see the project as a catalyst for redevelopment of Oslo's east side, like here in Groruddalen. ILLUSTRATION: Snøhetta/Cowi/MIR

Oslo city officials aren’t backing down from their bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, despite concerns over costs and environmental effects. Both of Oslo’s biggest rivals, organizers in Switzerland and Germany, have now dropped their own bids after voters rejected them. ILLUSTRATION: Snøhetta/Cowi/MIR

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that German voters in Munich and three other Bavarian communities also have cited a “deep mistrust” towards the culture of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). They feared that hosting an Olympics in 2022 would generate huge costs and debt, send housing prices up and damage the environment because of all the construction that would be needed. Active campaigners against the Olympics also claimed the huge winter sports extravaganza would not have a positive influence on the region.

With 52 percent voting against the project in Sunday’s referendum, the German voters followed Swiss voters who also have refused to support their local politicians’ bid for a Winter Olympics in 2022. Switzerland and Germany were seen as the biggest rivals for Oslo’s own bid for what’s locally called “OL” in 2022.

That means Oslo is now favoured to win its OL bid, ahead of remaining rivals in Beijing, Poland, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Oslo’s own referendum on the OL issue was held in conjunction with the September parliamentary election, received strong support from city officials and athletic organizations that mobilized sports enthusiasts, and won majority support despite massive criticism that voters all over the country should have been allowed to take part. The “yes” vote sought by city politicians in Oslo gave them a green light to proceed with the OL application process, and OL boosters will now “officially” report their interest in applying for the games to the IOC on Thursday. IOC members may well be grateful that a wealthy country like Norway is willing to take on the risk and expense of an Olympics, after being snubbed by voters in Switzerland and Germany.

City government leader Stian Berger Røsland from the Conservative Party sees great economic development prospects from an Olympics, and is keen to exploit the success of the last Olympics held in Norway by reusing facilities in and around Lillehammer. PHOTO: OSLO2022/Oslo kommune

City government leader Stian Berger Røsland from the Conservative Party still thinks Oslo can arrange a modest Winter Olympics in 2022, with a budget that’s a mere fraction of what’s being spent on the next OL in Russia. Critics think that’s unrealistic, even though it still amounts to a lot of money they think would also be better spent on other projects. PHOTO: OSLO2022/Oslo kommune

The head of Oslo’s city government, Stian Berger Røsland of the Conservative Party, is undaunted by the concerns about costs, environmental damage and IOC arrogance raised in Germany. Rather, he said the referendum held in Munich “means one of our toughest competitors has been removed.” Oslo now has “good possibilities” to prevail in its own bid, he told NRK, which he thinks is a good thing.

“We can show that an Olympics doesn’t have to be so expensive,” he said, suggesting that a Winter OL in Oslo won’t involve the enormous spending and forced relocation of residents that’s been seen in Sochi, Russia, where the upcoming Winter Olympics will be held. Norwegian organizers are proposing a budget of “only” NOK 30 billion (USD 5 billion), a fraction of what’s being spent in Russia.

Critics have claimed Oslo’s modest budget is unrealistically low, and that the final cost to taxpayers will be much higher. Local skiing organizations Norges Skiforbund and Skiforeningen haven’t even been able to break even recently on the annual Holmenkollen World Cup event in ski jumping and Nordic skiing, meaning that Skiforeningen is now officially asking the city to help cover its financial losses, next year as well. The city also wound up with huge budget overrun on construction of Holmenkollen itself, and on the expense of maintaining it.

Røsland insists that Oslo can host a more modest OL that can focus more on sport and less on show, and “bring back the joy” of winning. Asked whether Norwegians have the confidence in the IOC that the Germans lacked, Røsland said he thinks IOC members “have realized,” after being turned down by the Swiss and the German voters, “that there needs to be limits” on the extravagance of an Olympics. Røsland told NRK he thinks the IOC will be making “big changes” and paying more attention to costs and environmental effects.

Now he needs to lobby state government leaders, however, to provide the financial guarantees needed for an Olympics. His own party, the Conservatives, leads the new government but its coalition partner, the Progress Party, has opposed the Olympic bid. “We just have to show that we really want to do this,” Røsland said, “and show that this is a good idea.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund