IOC blamed for killing OL spirit

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“Absurd” demands made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were catching most of the blame on Thursday for the decision by top Norwegian politicians to end Oslo’s bid to host the Winter Olympics, locally called “OL,” in 2022.  The IOC’s demands and perceived arrogance are believed to have played a bigger role in fueling public opposition to Oslo’s bid than the enormous cost of mounting an Olympics.

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 (IOC), has accepted much of the blame himself for the failure of Oslo’s Winter Olympics bid. His bosses at the IOC, though, seemed unrepentant on Thursday and blamed their loss of Oslo as a candidate city on “half-truths and inaccuracies” about the IOC’s conditions. PHOTO: Jon Eeg / NTB Scanpix

Opposition had been growing all year but climaxed just during the past few days. That’s when a new spurt of media coverage highlighted not only the uncertainty of just how high costs could rise, but also some of the many specific demands posed by the IOC bosses.

Newspaper VG reported Wednesday, just before a key parliamentary committee was set to decide on whether to recommend the needed state financial guarantee, that the IOC’s demands would “turn Oslo upside down,” and published its story upside down in its paper edition to prove the point.

Included among the demands contained in the IOC’s 7,000 pages of specifications for Oslo as an applicant city, some of which also had been reported and ridiculed earlier by newspaper Aftenposten:

** that IOC bosses (called pampene in Norway) meet the King of Norway before the opening ceremony, with a cocktail reception afterwards to be paid for either by the Royal Palace or the Oslo Olympic Organizing Committee

** that the IOC president be ceremoniously received upon arrival in Norway out on the tarmac where his plane was to land, and that IOC bosses be provided with their own entrance at the airport

** that a special lane be reserved on local motorways for the exclusive use of IOC boss’ cars, and that traffic be regulated, also street lights, so that Olympic participants would have priority over all others

** that all IOC members be provided with a new Samsung mobile telephone with a Norwegian mobile subscription

** that the organizers acquire and pay for a fleet of cars with chauffeurs for each IOC boss, IOC members and all others whom the IOC thinks should have their own car and driver for the duration of the Games

There also were numerous other specific demands for major tax breaks, various hotel services including butlers and laundry, availability of “high-quality” food and drink at all hours, and for full control over all advertising in the city for as long as the Games lasted, to ensure that only Olympic sponsors were promoted. The IOC even specified that meeting room temperatures be kept at exactly 20C  and that all IOC members must be met with a smile when arriving at their hotels.

The demands came on top of the controversy that ensued during the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, when the IOC forbid the Norwegian women’s cross-country ski team from wearing black armbands after the brother of one of the team’s skiers died. The women defied the ban and were reprimanded, setting off a storm of criticism of the IOC in Norway. The IOC president later expressed regrets over the incident but it was too late to undue the damage.

Oslo’s ‘no’ a ‘needed slap in the face’
Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg, who felt forced to withdraw from campaigning for an Olympics in Oslo because of the anti-IOC sentiment, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Wednesday night that he thinks opposition to the Oslo OL bid only grew during and after Sochi, where spending was lavish and there also were charges of human rights violations.

Heiberg now thinks that Norway’s ultimate refusal to host the Olympics amounts to a needed “slap in the face” for the IOC. He claimed the IOC was “very disappointed and sad” that Norway’s Conservatives-led government halted the application process on Wednesday.

“I called and talked with my bosses and they are very sad and very disappointed,” Heiberg said. “Especially the president (Thomas Bach) who wanted to show what we could do in western Europe. He was very down when I spoke with him.”

Heiberg said that earlier IOC scandals involving bribes and a lack of transparency led to “a little revolution” at the IOC, and that Norway’s “no” as a reaction to IOC boss’ demands for special treatment may do the same. Many feel the Olympics have simply grown too large and unwieldy, and prone to terms that western democracies have a hard time accepting. The only two remaining governments still interested in hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022 are in Beijing and Kazakstan.

“We had to go through this,” Heiberg told NRK. “We need to get a slap in the face at regular intervals.”

IOC unrepentant
Other IOC officials, however, seemed defensive and unrepentant on Thursday, with Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director, issuing a statement that was not well-received in Oslo, not even by the most ardent supporters of the now-extinguished Olympic project. Dubi, writing on the IOC’s website (external link), claimed the City of Oslo rather had missed out on a great “opportuny” and suggested the “Norwegian bid team” had not “properly briefed” Norway’s “senior politicians” on the process, leaving them to make their decision “on the basis of half-truths and factual inaccuracies.”

That angered Trond Helleland, one of the “senior politicians” who serves as parliamentary leader for the ruling Conservative Party in Norway. “The problem is that the IOC is an organization that has a poor response to signals,” Helleland told NRK on Thursday. “They need to point the finger at themselves. Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland and Norway have now all said ‘no’ to arranging a Winter Olympics in 2022. Only two countries remain willing that are both extremely undemocratic. The IOC must start making some changes internally, instead of pointing the finger at others.”

Helleland and other city and state politicians also noted that after three years of extensive debate on the Olympic project, and what Prime Minister Erna Solberg called a “clean and comprehensive process,” Norway’s “senior politicians” were more than able to make a decision that was not based on “half-truths and inaccuracies.” Rather, they claimed, the Norwegian people expressed their opposition to the IOC and Olympic costs, and the politicians listened. On Thursday, new concerns were being expressed about what kinds of demands were made or granted when Norway hosted the Winter Olympics at Lillehammer in 1994, and some commentators were even questioning whether Norwegian athletes should compete in future Olympics, given the opposition to the IOC.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund