The International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially named Oslo as a candidate city for the 2022 Winter Olympics on Monday, alongside Beijing in China and Almaty in Kazakhstan. The majority of Norwegians oppose Oslo hosting the event, with former prime minister Kåre Willoch becoming the latest political heavyweight to voice his opposition last week.
The IOC said it was confident all of the candidate cities could host the event and break even financially despite their considerable differences, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We are very pleased to see three very different approaches to the organization of the Games,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “It gives the IOC a choice between three candidates with different backgrounds, different plans and different budgets. This is in line with our framework in the process of selecting an organizer.”
“I am very happy and relieved, perhaps surprisingly relieved,” said Eli Grimsby, director of Oslo municipality’s Olympic agency, Oslo 2022. She spoke to NRK from Lausanne in Switzerland, where the IOC held its press conference. “I have been very confident that we would go further, but for we who have worked hard for more than two years for an Oslo Olympics, this is one of the most important milestones. We still have a long way to go.”
Public polling has consistently showed Oslo’s Olympic bid is unpopular with the majority of Norwegians. “I’m disappointed that the nail wasn’t put in the coffin,” said Atle Simonsen, the leader of the Progress Party’s youth organization (Fremskrittspartiets Ungdom, Fpu). “But I’m sure that the Norwegian people and Norwegian Parliament are going to say no in the end. The opinion polls show discontent with the planned spending. There is not a single Olympics that has been on budget. It’s the taxpayers who must take the knock and other important projects including health, infrastructure and police are downgraded.”
The city’s Olympic bid still depends on a state financial guarantee of NOK 35 billion (USD 5.6 billion), with Parliament due to make a decision this autumn. The Conservative (Høyre) sports and culture Minister Thorhild Widvey said she’s in favour of hosting the event, and Prime Minister Erna Solberg has not ruled out backing the arrangement. Their coalition partner the Progress Party, however, voted decisively against the financial guarantee at its national meeting earlier this year.
Willoch’s surprise opposition
Progress Party leader Siv Jensen won an unlikely ally last week. In 1985 the state guarantee for the Lillehammer Olympics was granted during Conservative prime minister Kåre Willoch’s term. The parliament at the time approved a NOK 1.5 billion guarantee, but the costs blew out to around NOK 7 billion.
“I have long criticized Siv Jensen for wanting to spend too much money for many purposes,” Willoch told NRK last week. “It is valuable that she as Finance Minister finally sees the need to slow spending.”
Willoch, often viewed as “the wise old man” in Norwegian politics these days, said the NOK 35 billion the government was considering was a staggering amount. “If this sum should grow even bigger, that is quite alarming,” Willoch warned. “I am convinced that we will be able to use the labour, knowledge and resources to the greater and more varied delight of many people in other ways than by making a big party.”
While Willoch has experienced two Winter Olympics in Norway in 1956 and 1994, he did not believe today’s youth would miss out on anything. “In our modern times, many will be able to experience the Olympics even if it is not hosted in Norway. They can travel to where it is held. For the others, the TV coverage is quite good, to say the least,” he added with a grin.
The host city will be chosen on July 31 next year.