Olympic effort keeps snowballing

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Top city politicians in Oslo went ahead and sent an application on Friday to the International Olympic Committee (IOC)  to host the Winter Olympics 2022 (OL), defying massive opposition to the project nationwide. The city politicians and sports bureaucrats pushing hard to mount an OL believe support will grow, and think Norway can exert some power over the IOC.

These are the people fronting the proposal to host a Winter Olympics in Oslo in 2022. At center in front, Stian Berger Røsland, who insisted to newspaper "Dagens Næringsliv" on Friday that he's not "a little Putin," referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who fronted the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi. PHOTO: Oslo kommune

These are the people fronting the proposal to host a Winter Olympics in Oslo in 2022. At center in front, Stian Berger Røsland, who insisted to newspaper “Dagens Næringsliv” on Friday that he’s not “a little Putin,” referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who fronted the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi. PHOTO: Oslo kommune

The formal application literally carries written conditions set by the government minister in charge of sports and culture, Thorhild Widvey. The IOC has demanded that her state ministry will need to put up an unlimited financial guarantee for the expensive event, but Widvey has attached a letter to the application with some demands of her own. She wants the right to negotiate with the IOC regarding the parameters for a Winter Olympics, to control their costs.

Opponents of the OL movement, which has continued to snowball despite criticism and opposition, see the state government as their last hope in halting the project, which has rolled through the city government almost without any formal voting on its costs so far. They’ve reportedly climbed to nearly NOK 200 million already, much of which has been spent on expensive consulting firms like First House, who’ve been trying to sway public opinion. That set off new protests even from a former leader of the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Hans B Skaset, who decried the national sports federation’s secrecy over how it’s been spending money on the OL effort.

“It’s more than a bit of a paradox that an organization that cultivates a grassroots image, volunteerism and waffle-activities uses methods that are so professional yet suspicious,” Skaset, a former president of the group, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said he was sad to hear that the organization (Norges Idrettsforbundet) had been hiring high-priced consultants from First House and other firms, and supported giving tax breaks for OL organizers and commercial partners.

Eli Grimsby, who's been heading the city's Olympic committee, with a copy of Oslo's "first application" to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). PHOTO: Oslo kommune

Eli Grimsby, who’s been heading the city’s Olympic committee, with a copy of Oslo’s “first application” to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). PHOTO: Oslo kommune

“I was so sorry to hear that,” said Skaset, referring to recent reports in newspapers VG and Klassekampen. “You can get furious that they’ve come in such a situation.” He thinks it defies the spirit of sports and is evidence that the sports bureaucrats are out of touch with the people and freely spend money that’s not their own.

Børre Rognlien, president of the sports organization, denies that, and claimed “we have no problems with revealing our accounts and notes,” but the media was “hounding them all the time” and his group simply wasn’t ready to share its financial information before its subsidiary organizations had seen it.

Rognlien and his fellow boosters of a Winter OL have also claimed repeatedly that Norway has an obligation to host another Olympics, since it takes part in them and wins so many medals. Norway already has hosted two Winter Olympics, however, while other winter sports nations like Sweden, Finland, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic never have. Austria hasn’t hosted an OL since 1976, pointed out one commentator in newspaper Aftenposten, Switzerland hasn’t since 1948 nor Germany since 1936. All three of those countries dropped out of the Olympic application process because of the costs involved.

It’s ultimately up to Members of Parliament to approve a state financial guarantee, and several MPs from within the city government’s own party, the Conservatives, are opposed. City government leader Stian Berger Røsland of the Conservatives said he expects Oslo to be among the finalists selected by the IOC in June, but admits he can’t be certain his own state government, led by the Conservatives, will ultimately support Oslo’s OL project. “I don’t think it’s possible to get them all to go along with this,” he told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday.

Among the OL skeptics is MP Michael Tetzschner of the Conservatives, who said the project now depends on a clearer picture of the costs involved, and “whether it will be possible to get the IOC to accept a lack of special tax treatment, over-exaggerated VIP luxury and expensive demands.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund