Oslo’s 2022 Olympic Winter Games and delusions of grandeur

Photo: Library of Congress Holmenkollen two weeks after the 1952 Olympics.

Photo: Library of Congress
Holmenkollen two weeks after the 1952 Olympics.

M. Michael Brady
The Foreigner

There were three Candidate Cities to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games until Wednesday 1 October this year. And then there were two.

Oslo withdrew its candidature after Parliament decided not to grant the Financial Guarantee required for final formal submission to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) by 7 January 2015. This now just leaves Almaty in Kazakstan and China’s Beijing left in the contending ring.

The Parliamentary decision reflected public opinion as well as a reluctance to commit to guarantee of some NOK 35 billion (GBP 3.4 billion), equivalent to about NOK 700 for each of the 5.1 million residents of the country.

The Norwegian decision echoed signals earlier this year that hosting an OWG is an exorbitant undertaking, even in well-off Europe, where three applicant cities cancelled their bids: Sweden’s Stockholm on 17 January, Kraków in Poland on 26 May and Lviv, Ukraine on 30 June. Moreover, 12 European cities—including Sarajevo, which hosted the 1984 OWG—and a consortium of three cities in the USA had expressed interest in bidding for the 2022 OWG but had backed out in face of the spiraling costs of hosting these.

Cancellation caused by the high costs of hosting an Olympic Winter Games is hardly new. In the US, a group of promoters won IOC approval in May 1970 for Denver, Colorado, as the venue of the 1976 OWG. But when a Colorado state audit revealed that the financing of an OWG was precarious and might leave the state with a sizeable debt, taxpayer disapproval led to a referendum held in November 1972. The result was 60% of voters favoring outlawing the use of state money to fund the Games. Without Colorado state funding, there would be no Federal funding, and hence no OWG in Denver. (The 1976 OWG was awarded to Innsbruck, Austria, upon Denver withdrawing).

The risk of cost overrun for an OWG is significant, as the final figures for past Games show. According to numbers compiled by the Said Business School at the University of Oxford, and published in Oslo’s and Norway’s national newspaper Aftenposten on 12 September this year, the cost overrun for the 1994 OWG in Lillehammer was 347%, second only to the all-time loser, the 1980 OWG in Lake Placid, USA, with 502%.

Costs aside, Oslo had been widely perceived as the Candidate City with the best winter sports credentials. Ski jump meets have been held annually at Holmenkollen, a prominent hill just north of the downtown area, since 1892. These took place four years before the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens. Oslo hosted the 1952 Olympic Winter Games as well as many winter sports world championships through the years. Oslo’s plans for the 2022 OWG called for most of the competitive events on snow and on ice to be held within the city limits. The Alpine skiing events, bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton were to be held at Lillehammer, which hosted the 1994 OWG.

Understandably, then, the IOC is dismayed at Oslo withdrawing its candidature. But at the grassroots level, the dismay seems more like that of an aristocracy facing loss of its luster. Opinion polling of the citizenry of the country has long been solidly against the Games. The opposition has been fiercest in the northern counties that are about as far north of Oslo as Oslo is of the Mediterranean. Understandably, the people of the far north see no benefit in dumping more government money into the Oslo region, already the country’s wealthiest.

In short, the opposition and the resultant withdrawal of Oslo’s candidature have not been about the winter sports involved, but rather about the impacts and risks of the enormous costs and about the arrogance of the IOC. Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang remarked in a prime time TV 2 interview (in Norwegian), that the IOC is out of touch with reality in demanding extraordinary privileges for its members during an OWG in Oslo, including:
• Drinks with the King paid for by the Royal Family
• Dedicated Olympic lanes on all roads trafficked by IOC vehicles
• Traffic lights programmed to prioritize Olympic traffic
• Special airport entrance for IOC members
• Round-the-clock access to high-quality food and drink
• Bars at hotels housing IOC members open beyond normal hours

Perhaps the time might have come for the winter sports equivalent of a Bastille Day?

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the Oct. 10, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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