Budget fight didn’t hit OL planning costs

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NEWS ANALYSIS: The City of Oslo wrapped up a noisy budget debate last week, striking an uneasy compromise at the expense of a variety of social services. At the same time, the city continues to spend large sums on its bid to host the Winter Olympics (OL) in 2022, reportedly with little if any budget debate, while state police have warned that much more money will be needed for planning OL security needs.

Here's one illustration of how the City of Oslo imagines the opening ceremonies for a Winter Olympics in Oslo in 2022. It's financing remains controversial, with millions already being spent without much political debate. PHOTO: Oslo2022

Here’s one illustration of how the City of Oslo imagines the opening ceremonies for a Winter Olympics in Oslo in 2022. Its costs and financing remain controversial, with millions already being spent without much political debate. PHOTO: Oslo2022

On Monday, newspaper Dagsavisen reported that a telephone contact program for elderly and disabled Oslo residents has been ravaged after the city cut the NOK 500,000 in annual support that has helped keep it going. Several other mostly volunteer organizations also faced loss of city funding, or saw it dramatically cut.

“I want to find out the reason for the cut,” Arnulf Andersen, who leads the Telefonkontakt program that’s had city funding since 1971, told Dagsavisen. He said he hadn’t been able to reach the politicians responsible, and mostly only gets through to their political advisers, “who say they don’t know much about the issue.” Dagsavisen tried calling Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang, who had warmly supported the program in the past and said it could rely on broad political support in the future, but he was unavailable for comment.

Budget battle
Meanwhile, thousands of residents and youth held torchlit vigils and demonstrations last week during the last phase of the city budget negotiations, to protest threatened cuts in various youth programs, libraries, day care centers and elder care. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that Oslo’s neighbourhoods (known as bydeler) faced cuts of NOK 385.6 million, but Stang suggested that local officials singled out highly visible and popular programs to drum up public anger. Another politician, Jøran Kallmyr of the Progress Party, even proposed selling residential units in the new Munch Musuem that finally was approved, as a means of saving money.

“There’s always a need for more money in the public sector,” Stang told Aftenposten, “but we’re talking about a sector with NOK 20 billion.” He said he was sorry to hear the neighbourhoods contend it would be necessary to shut down centers for youth or the elderly, claiming that seldom actually happens. “I haven’t heard loud protests when someone proposes eliminating a position in an office instead,” Stang said.

OL bid largely left out of debate
As the city’s budget debate raged in recent weeks, though, Aftenposten has reported that the costs of Oslo’s application to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) alone are expected to hit NOK 232 million. Police say they’ll need another NOK 158 million more just to plan for all the massive security measures needed for a Winter Olympics in the Norwegian capital. The costs of the actual security before and during an OL 2022 in Oslo are currently set at NOK 1.8 billion, with the event expected to cost at least NOK 30 billion in total.

Stang has been a high-profile promoter of the OL bid, which a majority of Oslo residents supported in a recent referendum after intense lobbying by athletics organizations, sports stars and city officials. One of the city council’s few OL skeptics, though, Marianne Borgen of the Socialist Left party, said there’s been little if any budget negotiations over the hundreds of millions already being spent on it.

“I can’t remember that there has been any debate over how Oslo’s application for an Olympics should be financed,” Borgen told Aftenposten. She thinks it’s “strange” that city officials haven’t insisted on financial contributions from the private sector that stands to benefit from an OL, such as the hotel and tourism industry.

Instead, hotel magnate Petter Stordalen has been among those cheering on an OL bid without fronting any of the money needed for it himself. “In most countries, it’s common for private financing of the application work,” Knut Øverdal, assistant director in the city’s OL agency, told Aftenposten. “The initiative often comes not from the city, but from the sports and business interests that see possibilities for development.”

Call for private funding contributions
This year, though, the city has spent an estimated NOK 130 million on its application to the IOC, and next year the city has budgeted another NOK 102 million. Borgen thinks the public expense is “problematic,” not least when there were so many threatened cuts in other areas of the city’s overall budget.

“We’ve been wringing our hands to avoid cuts in libraries and day care centers, even in anti-poverty programs,” she said. Carl I Hagen of the Progress Party, who has opposed the OL project, agreed, in a rare example of cooperation between parties at the opposite ends of the political spectrum. “All those who can benefit from an OL should be contacted for an economic contribution,” Hagen told Aftenposten.

Libe Rieber-Mohn of the Labour Party, which support the OL bid, disagreed. “We are positive towards business as sponsors,” she said, but thinks it’s too late to call for private funding now. “We must be realistic. We can’t risk landing in a situation where Oslo can’t complete its application because financing isn’t in place.” Others think the OL application never should have been launched, arguing that the city should be devoting its energy and funds to far more important community services than an Olympics.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund