The party is definitely over in Bergen, and the hangover looks likely to be especially painful. The national cycling federation (Norges Cycleforbund) that hosted the cycling world championships this past week was facing bankruptcy on Monday, literally run over by huge budget overruns.
The president of the federation, Harald Tiedemann Hansen, confirmed to local newspaper Bergens Tidende (BT) even before the championships ended on Sunday that he was worried about how the balance sheet would shape up as final figures rolled in. Even though the event attracted wildly enthusiastic fans who filled the streets of Bergen, hardly any of them had to pay to see the world’s best cyclists speed by.
“It was free to come and watch, and we’re glad about that,” Hansen told BT. Crowd estimates hit around 100,000 people in downtown Bergen alone on Sunday, given the number of mobile telephones registered in the area. In addition came everyone who lined the streets at Sotra and in Øygarden.
BT had already reported that organizers had trouble attracting paying sponsors. They also ran into extra expenses and currency exchange issues when the Norwegian krone weakened against the euro. Local hotels even experienced far fewer overnight guests than expected.
‘Can’t rule out a loss’
The event had a budget of NOK 156 million. BT estimated that total costs may hit around NOK 220 million. “The receipts haven’t been tallied yet, and we’ll have to see what’s come in, but I’m worried,” Hansen admitted to BT. “I can’t rule out there will be a loss. It’s demanding to host a world championships, but the public has been fantastic. I hope those who have any influence can see that this has been a fantastic promotion of Bergen, of Western Norway and the whole country, and that they won’t let the cycling federation bleed afterwards.”
It’s the cycling federation he leads, however, that’s ultimately responsible. It had asked the City of Bergen, Hordaland County and the state for financial guarantees. The first two agreed, but not the state. Now Hansen hopes the state will step in and help bail them all out, if necessary.
Others were highly critical of such an attitude, with the leader of a national bike racing association (Norges Sykkelrittforening) claiming that the boards of both Hansen’s cycling federation and its wholly owned Bergen 2017 AS that organized the event lacked financial competence. “They haven’t been critical enough about expenses and fell right into the luxury trap,” Arild Salte told told state broadcaster NRK. “They haven’t had control.”
Salte is worried the budget fiasco will hurt the cycling sport in Norway. “It’s a special situation, the federation will have to fire some of its people,” Salte said. “The payroll is the only area where they can save money.” He also claimed the federation should have been better prepared for currency exchange costs. When Bergen 2017 was granted the rights to host the world championships in 2017, a licensing fee of EUR 7 million from the international cycling federation (UCI) was attached. “They should have paid that earlier (when the Norwegian krone was stronger). Instead they put it off.” That means the EUR 7 million now costs nearly NOK 65 million instead of the NOK 50 million that was budgeted.
State officials, meanwhile, reminded reporters that the state already has contributed NOK 52 million in funding for the event, NOK 12 million more than initially requested. They weren’t at all sure there would be any willingness to bail out the organizers now.
Hansen was trying not to let all his financial woes spoil what he repeatedly called a “fantastic” week in Bergen. “I had never dreamed it would be so spectacular or that there would be such huge crowds of local residents turning out,” he told BT. “I hadn’t expected such enthusiasm even in my wildest fantasies.” He claimed he has no regrets about hosting the event. Now it’s just a matter of paying for it.