Pressure on Oslo taxpayers to arrange the Winter Olympics (OL) in 2022 is likely to rise after residents of Krakow, Poland became the latest to refuse to host it. Krakow’s rejection leaves only Oslo, Beijing, Lviv in Ukraine and Almaty in Kazakhstan as cities expressing interest in hosting the expensive sports extravaganza.
It used to be that cities and countries actively competed against each other to host an Olympics. Now, the huge costs and perceived arrogance of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have prompted many potential organizers to lose interest. Voters in Switzerland, Germany and now Poland have refused to give their politicians support for an Olympics. Politicians themselves have halted Olympic plans in Austria and Sweden as well.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Monday that 70 percent of voters in a Polish referendum turned down a proposal to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in partnership with Slovakia. Public sentiment in Norway is running heavily against an Olympics, too, even though a referendum with low voter turnout in Oslo last fall gave the project support from 53 percent of those casting ballots. Now, as many as 80 percent of the residents of Northern Norway are opposed, around 60-70 in Western Norway and even 60 percent in Oslo, according to the latest public opinion polls.
Oslo politicians, though, refuse to accept the results of repeated public opinion polls showing anti-OL sentiment, and continue to press forward with a bid for the Winter Games that itself has already cost an estimated NOK 300 million. The politicians have been prodded by sports officials and highly paid public relations consultants who now are expected to mount more expensive efforts to sway public opinion over the next few months, until the Parliament must vote on whether to approve a state financial guarantee for what’s called “Oslo2022.”
They’ve been given another chance by the state government’s minister of culture, Thorhild Widvey from the Conservative Party, who already has said she supports the Olympic project. She actually said recently that the sports officials “must work harder to turn around the ‘no’ vote,” and her party colleague Stian Berger Røsland has quickly accepted the challenge.
“If I thought our project would be rejected by the Parliament, we would have dropped this,” Røsland told NRK after the Krakow vote. “Perhaps it’s naive, but I have a good gut feeling about this. It looks like it will be difficult, but I have a feeling that in the end, we’ll get an OL.”
Encouraged by the skeptics
Instead of pondering the reasons why 70 percent of Krakow residents voted against an Olympics, Røsland was encouraged by their skepticism. “Now only two dictatorships (China and Kazakhstan), a country with internal unrest (Ukraine) and Norway remain,” he wrote on social media after the Krakow vote became known. He prefers to see the vote as boosting Norway’s chances, without acknowledging that the IOC already views a bid from Oslo positively and welcomes Norway’s oil wealth to host a Winter Games. IOC President Thomas Bach, who visited Oslo last week, made it clear he wants to get a bid from Norway, urging skeptical Norwegians to “remember (the success of) Lillehammer” in 1994 and claiming that an OL in Oslo “will take us back to our roots.”
Røsland also thinks Norway can tone down the scope and lavishness of an Olympics and exert “Norwegian values stressing human rights” on the IOC. That’s indeed naive, according to prize-winning German journalist Jens Weinreich, known for his critical coverage of both the IOC and the international football organization FIFA.
“Folks see how the IOC operates, how it’s organized, who gets all the money and who has to pay the bills,” Weinreich told NRK. “People aren’t stupid.”
He was aware of the “charm offensive” that Bach unleashed in Oslo last week, and he stresses that the skepticism against an OL in Oslo is “well-founded.” The IOC, he said, is not known for championing the environment, human rights, anti-corruption efforts within its own organization or the fight against doping. Weinreich said the amount of money contributed by the IOC to such efforts is “ridiculously low.”
Amnesty International, the human rights organization, agrees with Weinreich, after documenting several violations of human rights in connection with several Olympics, most recently in Sochi, Russia. Røsland of the City of Oslo remains undeterred.
“We can show that small, democratic countries can put on an Olympics on a completely different scale than what we’ve seen recently,” Røsland told NRK. “There are many of us in the Conservatives who are positive, also in the other parties. If we now get folks to see the possibilities, and what an Olympics can mean for business, organizations, volunteerism and sports, I think the chances are good.” No matter what the people think.