Another Olympic host drops out

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Oslo now only faces two rivals in its controversial bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, after the city of Lviv in Ukraine formally withdrew its application to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Monday. Beijing, Almaty in Kazakhstan and Oslo remain the only contenders at present, while strong public resistance in Norway still threatens Oslo’s bid.

Gerhard Heiberg, Norway's longtime member of the International Olympic Committee, claimed on Monday that Norway was known for being arrogant. That set off some immediate objections among Norwegians. PHOTO: Jon Eeg / NTB Scanpix

Gerhard Heiberg, Norway’s longtime member of the International Olympic Committee, said it was “sad” that only three cities are now interested in hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022. Oslo is still among them, but public opposition is strong. PHOTO: Jon Eeg / NTB Scanpix

“It’s sad that only three cities are left,” longtime IOC member Gerhard Heiberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Heiberg said he “would have gladly had six or seven” serious contenders for the rights to host the Olympics.

Instead, there’s been a glaring lack of interest in hosting an expensive Olympics, as such potential hosts as Stockholm, Munich, Switzerland and Krakow have all dropped out. Many of the bid withdrawals were prompted by the results of elections in which voters refused to support the Olympic projects.

Separatist violence and political upheaval in Ukraine have now killed off Lviv’s bid as well. On Monday, IOC President Thomas Bach confirmed that after discussions with the Ukrainian prime minister and president of the Ukrainian organizing committee, “we concluded that it would be very difficult” to move forward with the Olympic project “under the current circumstances.”

‘Little hope left’ for Oslo, too
In Norway, politicians asked to provide a state guarantee to finance the Winter Olympics face strong opposition among Norwegian voters. A referendum held in Oslo last September in connection with the parliamentary election resulted in a majority approving the Olympic project, but voter turnout was light and criticism flew that it didn’t represent the views of millions of Norwegians outside Oslo. Since then, a long string of public opinion polls has indicated widespread opposition to the idea of spending at least NOK 35 billion (USD 6 billion) on an Olympics. In some areas, the opposition is massive, like in Northern Norway where more than 80 percent of voters object to the project.

Several top Norwegian politicians, including Finance Minister Siv Jensen, have long opposed the project known as “Oslo2022,” while the poll results have left others with decidedly cold feet. Svein Harberg, the ruling Conservative Party’s spokesman on athletic issues, told NRK over the weekend that he now thinks there’s hardly any hope left for those still promoting an Olympics. Criticism has also flown over all the hundreds of millions of kroner that Oslo and sports officials already have spent on preparing the Olympic bid itself.

New heavy promotion expected
They’re not giving up, though, and government politicians have them more time to pressure the public into going along with the Olympic project, by postponing a decision on a state financial guarantee until this fall. Heavy promotion can thus be expected in the coming months, from paid consultants and PR firms planting commentaries favouring an Olympics in local media to the use of celebrities to sing an Olympics’ praises. Even former labour union boss Yngve Hågensen has joined a handpicked committee to drum up public support along with Kristin Krohn Devold, a former defense minister and head of the mountain trekking association DNT. Myriad sports stars are already involved in the pro-Olympic effort including Bjørn Dæhlie, Kjetil André Aamodt, Johann Olav Koss and Ole Einar Bjørndalen.

Money talks
Powerful business interest are also involved, including real estate developer and former industrialist Bjørn Rune Gjelsten and hotel tycoon Petter Stordalen, while Devold heads the Norwegian employers’ organization NHO’s tourism division. The Oslo2022 committee, meanwhile, has continued to hire new staffers despite all the opposition to their project, and now has around 25 people working full-time on the Olympic bid. The IOC is due to formally name the official bidders at a meeting next week.

Meanwhile, as opponents worry about bursting budgets and how much an Olympics will cost, city officials had to admit last week that repairs and modifications already needed for Oslo’s still-new Holmenkollen Ski Jump will be much more expensive than expected. Newspaper Aftenposten reported they’d budgeted NOK 118 million for the project, needed in connection with Oslo’s hosting of the biathlon world championships in 2016, but with only one bidder keen on doing the job, the pricetag has risen to NOK 174 million.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund