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Thursday, July 18, 2024

‘Sports Illustrated’ sets off OL storm

Norwegians vehemently opposed to the idea of hosting another Winter Olympics in 2022 have been sounding off this weekend in an unusual forum and a language that’s not their own. They felt compelled, in English, to firmly bash an American Sports Illustrated magazine commentator for promoting Oslo’s OL bid in a column that seems to have backfired. 

As the Winter Olympics in Sochi came to a close on Sunday, debate continued in Norway -- and in the American magazine "Sports Illustrated" -- over whether Oslo should host another Olympics in 2022. PHOTO: Sochi 2014
As the Winter Olympics in Sochi came to a close on Sunday, debate continued in Norway — and in the American magazine “Sports Illustrated” — over whether Oslo should host another Olympics in 2022. PHOTO: Sochi 2014

Using the column’s comments field in the magazine’s online edition, nearly 200 Norwegians had written their own angry response, much of it in halting English, by Sunday afternoon. Even as their own athletes continued to win medals at the Winter Olympics that just ended in Sochi, the comments made it clear that skepticism towards the Olympics still runs high in Norway. With another new public opinion poll showing only 20 percent of Norwegians in favour of hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022, politicians who keep pushing for it are seen as effectively thumbing their noses at the public.

Alexander Wolff of Sports Illustrated used a mix of flattery and condescension in his lengthy “open letter” to “the citizens of Norway,” published on Friday, to get Norwegians to change their minds. He called upon Norwegians to support their politicians, city officials, sports bureaucrats and athletes who are promoting the bid, suggesting that only Norway can save the Winter Olympics from being “condemned” to Beijing, Krakow, Lviv or Almaty. Those cities are the only other bidders expected at this point, after Germany, Switzerland and Sweden all dropped out because of the costs involved. A bid from Oslo would surely win, with many officials lately claiming that the Olympics needs Oslo more than Oslo needs the Olympics.

Counting costs
It’s the costs, and the sheer enormity of the Olympics, that have caused a majority of Norwegians (more than 80 percent of them in some regions) to oppose the Oslo2022 project. It’s already come at great expense to taxpayers, with one opponent pointing out the City of Oslo has spent nearly NOK 200 million to date on its “Oslo2022” project without any public debate or formal approval, and at a time when city politicians are cutting funding in other areas. The costs so far are being covered “outside the budget,” and that’s raising questions, not least after nearly two dozen project promoters spent time in Sochi over the past two weeks, pushing their bid at an estimated cost of NOK 6 million. That may be where they got Wolff’s ear.

Wolff, however, called the proposed budget for an Oslo Olympics (NOK 35 billion, or USD 5.8 billion) “modest” in relation to the vast sums spent by the Russian government on the Olympics in Sochi. He urged Norwegians not to be “misled” by the spending on Sochi, which he blamed on a need to build new facilities and on a “culture of corruption totally alien to you.” Wolff also suggested that Norway, specifically Oslo, already has many of the facilities and winter weather needed.

Wrong on all counts, shot back his defiant Norwegian readers, noting that Oslo does not have the facilities needed for an Olympics and often has no snow either. Corruption scandals within Norwegian football and the corporate world, with Oslo-based international fertilizer giant Yara recently agreeing to pay a record fine for bribery, also discredit Wolff’s assertions.

Flattery got him nowhere
Neither his flattery, over how great he thinks Norway is as a winter sports nation and former organizer of the Olympics in Lillehammer, nor especially his condescending remarks about Oslo’s remaining rival venues or whether Norwegians even known much about them, endeared him to local readers. That’s why they turned to the comments field to let him know just how wrong they think he is. Or, as one more conciliatory Norwegian wrote, “We will host it, if you will pay for it.”

The state government ministers and Members of Parliament who must decide by January whether to put up the “unlimited financial guarantee” demanded by the IOC, will find the comments sobering reading (external link to the Sports Illustrated article). The vehemence of them may surprise Oslo2022 promoters like Eli Grimsby, who’s been leading the project and who may have been thrilled to see a column like the one in Sports Illustrated, only to see it dragged through the mud, along with her plans, by her fellow Norwegians.

Grimsby has been undaunted by the wave of negative public opinion polls, though, and she and local sports officials are now gearing up efforts to launch a new offensive, to drum up more support among the public. More commentaries and columns in favour of Oslo2022 are already appearing (some say they’re being “planted”) in local media. Grimsby’s group is due to send in its formal bid to the IOC by March 14. Berglund



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