Sports lobby won’t give up Olympics

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The majority of Norwegians who oppose an Olympics in Oslo could heave a collective sigh of relief on Sunday that they may not need to pay for one after all. Sports bureaucrats, however, made it clear on Monday that they’re not giving up their efforts to mount an Olympics and get the state to guarantee its financing. Politicians are thus gearing up for more Olympic debate ahead.

Børre Rognlien, president of Norway's athletics federation, and Stian Berger Røsland, head of Oslo's city government, aren't giving up their efforts to mount a Winter Olympics in Oslo in 2022. PHOTO: Oslo 2022/Oslo kommune

Børre Rognlien, president of Norway’s athletics federation, and Stian Berger Røsland, head of Oslo’s city government, aren’t giving up their efforts to mount a Winter Olympics in Oslo in 2022. PHOTO: Oslo 2022/Oslo kommune

“We’ll continue our work for an Olympics in Oslo just like before,” Børre Rognlien, president of Norway’s national athletics federation, told state broadcaster NRK and newspaper Aftenposten on Monday. The country’s powerful sports lobby will carry on their efforts, he added, “until the government or the Parliament asks for something other than that.”

With public opinion polls running solidly against the City of Oslo’s and the sports lobby’s bid to mount the Winter Olympics in 2022, opponents were cheered by the vote taken at the conservative Progress Party’s national meeting on Sunday. The party shares government power with the Conservative Party, and a majority of its delegates effectively voted against hosting an Olympics in Oslo by refusing to issue a state guarantee to cover its costs.

That makes it difficult for the Conservatives to propose a state guarantee if they hope to maintain government unity. Even though the Progress Party’s vote “is not binding” for the government itself, Prime Minister Erna Solberg admitted that the Olympics can be “a fantastic experience but incredibly expensive.”  Solberg also hails from Norway’s west coast, where opposition to an Olympics in Oslo has been strong.

The Conservatives could still propose a state guarantee itself and possibly get support for it from opposition parties in Parliament like Labour, but Solberg stressed there would have to be broad support in parliament from all the other parties to put up a guarantee for the NOK 35 billion budgeted by the Oslo2022 committee. The Russians spent roughly 10 times that amount on the recent Olympics in Sochi, and critics think the Oslo2022 figures are unrealistically low.

Meanwhile, Rognlien, other sports officials, athletes and city politicians in Oslo say they’ll keep pushing for an Olympics despite the costs. “It’s the Parliament that will decide whether there will be a state guarantee for the Olympics, not the Progress Party,” Rognlien told Aftenposten. He refused to admit defeat and said he couldn’t explain why public enthusiasm for an Olympics was so low and opposition so high, with nearly 60 percent of Norwegians nationwide opposing their bid according to the latest polls.

Labour politicians, meanwhile, were non-committal with deputy Labour leader Helga Pedersen requesting a speedy clarification of the government’s plans given the ever-rising costs tied to the city’s application process alone. Pedersen hails from Finnmark in Northern Norway, where nearly 80 percent of residents oppose an Olympics.

Rognlien, a former Member of Parliament himself for the the Conservative Party, admitted that the Progress Party’s vote didn’t promote any “hallelujahs” from his side, “but now we have to calm down and study the situation.” He also noted that he spent 10 years trying to convince the city to rebuild Bislett Stadium in Oslo back in the 1990s. He succeeded, but that project ended up with major budget overruns, much less than those feared from an Olympics.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund