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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

New Olympic bid called ‘tragicomic’

UPDATED: Heads were shaking in Norway after state broadcaster NRK reported how officials in the inland county of Telemark were planning to mount a new bid to host a Winter Olympics, preferably in 2026. Jacob Lund, who headed sponsorships for Norway’s largest bank for more than 20 years, was among those dismissing the effort, while organizers were undaunted and promise the “world’s most spectacular” downhill runs.

This is the area of Telemark where local enthusiasts want to mount a Winter Olympics, with “the world’s most spectacular downhills runs” on the mountain in the background known as Gaustatoppen. PHOTO: Matt Lato

“We want to revolutionize the shape and scope that the Winter Olympics have today,” claimed Jonny Pettersen, leader of the Notodden idrettsråd (sports council) in Telemark, when unveiling the county’s ambitious plans for an Olympics (simply called “OL” in Norway). He noted how the county opened up an elevator inside the distinctive local mountain known as Gaustatoppen: “If we can do that in seven years, we can manage to prepare for an Olympics in nine.”

He and his fellow OL boosters stressed the rich cultural heritage and skiing traditions of Telemark, home of the town of Morgedal that’s known as “the cradle of skiing” in Norway. “We want to bring an OL back to its roots and to the people,” Pettersen told NRK. “We will concentrate on sustainable development in line with the UN’s climate goals, and on new technology so that this won’t harm the environment.”

They also intend to concentrate events in a relatively small area stretching from Notodden to Rjukan, and they think they can pull it all off for around what it cost to organize the Olympics at Lillehammer in 1994. Pettersen admitted that costs hadn’t been figured out yet and that “we know an OL isn’t cheap … but in Oslo (which tried but failed to mount a Winter OL in 2022) there was talk of around NOK 22 billion (less than USD 3 billion) and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) has signalled it will cover around NOK 10 billion. Then we’re coming down to the sum that Lillehammer cost.”

Oslo tried but failed to mount a Winter Olympics for 2022, after huge costs and a lack of public support doomed the effort. Now the inland county of Telemark is trying again, but skeptics abound. ILLUSTRATION: Oslo2022/Snøhetta Oslo AS

Others claim that’s way too low, and unrealistic. Russia spent the equivalent of hundreds of millions of kroner on its Olympics at Sochi in Russia in 2014, and the sponsorship expert Lund, with years of experience from his career at Norway’s biggest bank DNB, puts the price tag at more than NOK 60 billion.

“It’s tragicomic that Telemark can even think that it’s possible to mount such an arrangement, even in cooperation with (the bordering counties of) Vestfold and Buskerud,” Lund told NRK.

Lund stressed how the sheer amounts of money now required to host an Olympics make costs all but prohibitive even in a wealthy country like Norway. In Telemark, all facilities would also have to be built from scratch, since there are none that could be modified or expanded. Oslo, which mounted a hugely controversial bid for the 2022 Olympics a few years ago, could at least have used some of its existing winter sports infrastructure but even then, the bid failed to win either public or national political support.

Pettersen claims use of the facilities after an OL is “a major goal for us.” He noted that the group has consciously decided against proposing placement of facilities yet in order to “invite the entire region” to participate in the planning. “We want to be an alternative to a gigantic OL,” he said, promoting “simple solutions” that would create “a compact, genuine, generous and sustainable OL.”

Few prospects for later use of facilities
Lund raised questions about how any such Olympic facilities in Telemark would be used when an Olympics was over. That’s been a huge problem in many Olympic venues, both summer and winter, when the need for the costly infrastructure disappears, and maintenance costs are high.

“Who would use the ski jumps needed?” Lund asked. “Hardly any youth take up ski jumping these days.” He also can’t find future markets for all the arenas that would be needed for an Olympics either, in an area with inadequate transport infrastructure to handle crowds.

Norway’s government minister in charge of sports and culture, Linda Hofstad Helleland, has already has been highly critical of how Norwegian sports bureaucrats handle their finances. The conservative government in which she serves ended Oslo politicians’ and sports officials’ dream of hosting another Olympics when they refused to issue the state finance guarantee needed. Helleland has also made it clear that any new Olympic bid would have to obtain firm support from all national sports organizations. She didn’t want to comment on the Telemark plans on Tuesday.

Tom Tvedt, who has been at odds with Helleland, merely smiled when NRK interviewed him about Telemark officials’ Olympic bid. He stated that “all positive initiative” is welcome, but noted that “several regions” have expressed some interest in a new Olympics, not just Telemark. “What we’re doing now is to register this interest, and then have dialogue with the authorities,” Tvedt told NRK.

Few if any other areas in Europe have been willing or able to host another Olympics, because of costs and the lack of public support. That, at least, could make a bid from Telemark attractive to an IOC faced with a lack of alternatives. “The IOC needs us,” claim the Telemark organizers. Pettersen said his group’s next step will be to mount a feasibility study and what areas would be possible to use. “We dream about the world’s most spectacular downhill runs,” he said. “It’s no secret we see the downhill races running down from Gaustatoppen.”

Lund was not convinced. His conclusion on an Olympics in Telemark: “This is just nonsense.” Berglund



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