Frp blows out Olympic flame

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Norway’s Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) seems to have halted further progress on the City of Oslo’s campaign to host a Winter Olympics in 2022. A majority of Frp delegates to the party’s national meeting voted against issuing the state financial guarantee that the city needs to mount an Olympics (OL), thus blocking their seven ministers in Norway’s coalition government from offering or supporting one.

Olympics bid

Not everyone has been as enthusiastic as those portrayed in this illustration used by the City of Oslo to promote its Winter Olympic project. Now it may all be put on ice. PHOTO: Oslo 2022/Oslo kommune

The Frp vote will now make it difficult if not impossible for the government, led by the Conservatives, to guarantee to cover the costs of an OL. While opponents of an OL in Oslo were likely breathing a sigh of relief following Frp’s vote, it’s a blow to the Oslo politicians who already have spent more than NOK 150 million on their Olympic campaign. It’s also a bitter if not embarrassing defeat for Norway’s otherwise powerful sports bureaucrats, athletes and business leaders who would have benefited from what was dubbed “Oslo2022.”

Paid attention to the people
The Progress Party members and leaders, however, clearly had paid attention to a long series of public opinion polls in recent months showing that a solid majority of Norwegians in general oppose hosting an Olympics in Oslo. The party agreed with the majority, who simply think the project is far too expensive and potentially extravagant even for a wealthy country like Norway.

“The idea of an OL is good, but it’s a very bad idea to use so much of the public’s money on one,” Frank Willy Djuvik, leader of the party’s county chapter for Sogn og Fjordance told newspaper Aftenposten before the vote was taken. Both his delegation and Frp’s delegation from Troms in Northern Norway, an area that tried unsuccessfully to mount an OL in 2018, had spearheaded the party’s resolution to say “no” to an OL in Oslo.

Controversial idea won little enthusiasm
The idea for the Olympic project was planted three years ago by one of Norway’s senior members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Gerhard Heiberg. Norway’s sports bureaucrats quickly latched on to the idea and, and mobilized their powerful athletic lobbying organizations to push the idea through the Oslo City Council. The organizations also hired the help, controversially, of one of Norway’s most expensive and politically well-connected public relations firms, First House, to further their campaign and secure support for the project.

The efforts nonetheless failed to drum up public enthusiasm for the OL project. Those opposing the use of at least NOK 35 billion (USD 6 billion) on another Winter Olympics in Norway have never been well-organized, but opposition took the upper hand anyway. Poll after poll has indicated that nearly 80 percent of residents of Northern Norway oppose an Oslo OL and 59.2 percent oppose it on a national basis. Opposition is also strong in western Norway, home of Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Despite winning a slim majority in a referendum held in Oslo alone last fall, a recent poll for newspaper Klassekampen showed that nearly 56 percent of Oslo residents now oppose an OL bid, too. Only 34 percent of Norwegians nationwide actually support an Olympics in Oslo.

Fears of bursting budgets
That doesn’t justify spending so many billions on an event that most recently was hosted by a Russian president willing to spend far more than Oslo’s relatively modest budget and who engaged in military intervention and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea just a week after the Olympics in Sochi ended. With enormous problems facing the next Summer Olympics in Brazil, many critics question not only the huge costs of an Olympics but also their real purpose and effect.

Others simply feared that even the NOK 35 billion for an Oslo OL was unrealistic, and that budgets would burst along the way. Sochi’s OL cost an estimated NOK 300 billion at current exchange rates. “Believing that an Oslo OL would cost less than NOK 50 billion is like believing in Santa Claus,” Atle Simonsen of Frp told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Sunday.

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, was so confident the OL movement would prevail that she’s been advertising recently for a full-time director of marketing and communications. Now it’s unclear whether such a position will be necessary, if no state financial guarantee is forthcoming. PHOTO: Oslo kommune

Debate was lively at the party meeting, though, and 99 of Frp’s 219 delegates wanted to postpone a decision until the fall, in order to leverage their opposition for use in looming budget battles. Several also argued in favour of trying to push through a cheaper OL plan, or secure an extraordinary one-time distribution from Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund to finance the whole project. When the vote was taken, though, a majority opted to make a firm decision now that prevents Frp ministers and Members of Parliament from supporting an OL.

There’s still a chance that Frp’s government partner, the Conservatives, will offer a guarantee with support from parties in opposition, like Labour. But even Labour and some of Norway’s labour organizations have been skeptical to an OL and recognize that public enthusiasm for the project is minimal. Several Conservative ministers from the West Coast and elsewhere outside Norway also face OL opposition from their hometown constituencies.

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang, also from the Conservatives, had hoped Frp would postpone its decision. Otherwise, he told Aftenposten, he feared the “OL dream” would indeed be shattered. Few think the Conservatives, many of whom also are skeptical, will offer a state guarantee without the support of their government partner, Frp.

The city’s Oslo2022 committee has seemed confident enough that it will get its state guarantee that they’ve been advertising heavily the past two weeks for a director of marketing of communications. One of the tasks was to involve creating “strategies” for stimulating “national involvement” in an Oslo Olympics as well as international exposure for Oslo’s bid. It’s now unclear whether that will be necessary. The only other bidders for an OL in 2022 are Almaty in Kazakhstan, Beijing, Krakow in Poland with co-hosting from Slovakia, and Lviv in conflict-torn Ukraine.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund