Oslo drastically cuts its Olympic budget

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In what appears to be a desperate move to win more public support for a Winter Olympics in Oslo, city officials are poised to formally propose a drastically scaled-down version of the huge sporting event they want to hold in 2022. Now they’re planning to move some of the events out of Oslo, to reduce the need for new facilities and thereby cut the budget by almost half.

Oslo officials still need to convince Oslo residents that it's a good idea to spend at least NOK 30 billion (more than USD 5 billion) to host a Winter Olympics in 2022. Here, an artist's rendition of a ski race on a downtown street. PHOTO: Oslo2022/Oslo Kommune

Instead of “Games in the City,” the new concept for a Winter Olympics in Oslo may  be “Games in the Region,” as their organizers desperately try to cut costs and win public support. PHOTO: Oslo2022/Oslo Kommune

The Oslo2022 committee had been priding itself on what they claimed was already a “modest” version of the Winter Olympics, compared to the extravaganza in Sochi earlier this year. That event was harshly criticized for its enormous cost, and Oslo officials have claimed their “Games in the City” would cost much less at around NOK 35 billion (USD 6 billion). At least NOK 21.5 billion of that will come from taxpayer funds.

Although the committee’s budgets have been “quality assured” by major accounting companies, few believe the Winter Olympics in 2022 will “only” cost that much. With public opinion polls running heavily against the project, city officials seem worried that the government won’t be able to publicly justify putting up the state financial guarantee necessary for the Olympic project.

So late last week, the head of Oslo’s city government, Stian Berger Røsland, confirmed a report in newspaper VG that the city has asked the Oslo2022 committee to revise the project, to cut the budget by as much as NOK 10 billion. “We have heard and seen the debate about the Olympics and Paralymics and we’re taking it seriously,” Røsland told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend. “We’re aware there’s concern both for the total costs, for the public funding that will be needed and for whether we’re sufficiently challenging the various demands of the IOC (International Olympic Committee).”

Now the organizers are expected to propose moving all biathlon events, for example, from Oslo, where new facilities would need to be built, to Lillehammer, where a biathlon arena already exists. Ski jumping may be moved from Holmenkollen in Oslo to the large ski flying- and jumping hill at Vikersund, west of Oslo, while a new ice arena may be built in Drammen instead of Oslo. Speed skating events are likely to be held back at the Viking Ship arena that was built for the Winter Olympics in 1994. Alpine skiing events are already planned for the slopes also developed for the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994, back at Kvitfjell and Hafjell, about a three-hour drive from Oslo.

The new proposals have already drawn protests from skating enthusiasts in Oslo, who want and need new ice arenas they thought an Olympics would bring. The changes would also seriously alter the “compact” urban plans for an Olympics in Oslo, but Røsland denies they amount to a “crisis” means of getting the unpopular Olympic project approved. “It’s rather a new description of what might be possible,” he said. “Then it will be  up to the national decision-makers to decide what possibilities they want to use.” The government must make a recommendation to Parliament on the Olympics this fall.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund