Under accepted IOC requirements for staging the Winter Olympics, it would now seemingly be possible for London to host ice events, with the Alpine/Nordic disciplines at Aviemore in Scotland – given that Scotland remains British inSeptember and once high-speed rail is developed. A silly story? Not if Beijing’s bid for 2022 wins next year’s election in Kuala Lumpur.
Xhangjakou, Beijing’s projected Alpine centre, is halfway to Mongolia. The same is of course true to an extent with Oslo/Lillehammer – a two hour-plus ride, so that if a compact bid were the more desirable, Almaty of Kazakhstan could emerge as an illuminating dark horse in little-known Central Asia.
Gilbert Felli, IOC Executive Director of Olympics, was at pains to explain this week that two-city Games were an acceptable alternative in contemporary times. The intimacy of Innsbruck is long gone.
The scene for Kuala Lumpur, increasingly the colour of bidding these days, is political more than sporting, though Oslo/Lillehammer is more about sport by a famously winter sports-loving nation than the other two, which concern socialcultural expansion. But there’s a snag: the population of Norway admire the Olympics but are out of love with the IOC, ever since staging those memorable Lillehammer Games of 1994 amid rampant IOC financial indiscretions. It is the twofold default – Norway’s low approval poll-ranking and China’s travel gap – that could conceivably favour Almaty with its venues radius shorter than the Eiffel Tower to Orly.
While authoritarian governments of both China and Kazakhstan can robustly deliver what they wish, and, importantly, what they promise – a comforting factor for the IOC – there is an urgent need for the IOC to find a host capable of demonstrating that a Games can be delivered within a sensible budget under democratic, combined government and sport-orientated finance. This is part of Norway’s disenchantment – a fear of budget overrun, an alarm shared with many of the world’s more prominent potential host cities: an echo of Lord Killanin’s era, 1972-80, when the Games were shunned, post-Montreal, on account of costs and boycotts.
Los Angeles ’84, privately budgeted without a dollar of public money, rescued the IOC. Now Norway, in a different manner, could do the same, if their political election in November swings in support of the bid.
One factor enhancing this possibility is the attitude of Norwegian youth. A recent poll among under-30s was 53% in favour of hosting, only 28% against. Among over-30s, it was 36% in favour, 43% against: the lowest negative figure in decades. Eli Grimsby, Oslo’s CEO, says: “We are optimistic that following the
election the Conservative and Labour parties will be willing to endorse the bid. In Norway, public opinion polls are not necessarily decisive.” Thorhild Widvey, Minister of Culture and Sport, is equally optimistic.
Thomas Bach, IOC President, is aware of a long-standing IOC omission: a failure to emphasise for public consumption, as he did to the three candidates on Monday, the separation of any Olympic budget into two sections. Firstly, running 17 days of sport; secondly, superimposed exploitation by government and/or city of Olympic momentum for civic investment in road, rail, airport and other construction. Montreal ’76, controversially labelled a disaster, made a Gamesbudget profit, so did Sochi 2014, yet global perception is that Sochi’s Games cost $50 bn. A nonsense.
Further emphasis by Bach was that the elected host of 2022 will receive a subsidy from IOC-generated funds, a subsidy approaching 1 billion US$. There is no reason why Oslo/Lillehammer or either of the other two should suffer a loss with prudent planning. For a start, Oslo should re-estimate their predicted income calculations from sponsorship and ticket sales. In their report to the IOC, this is calculated at almost half the total expected by their two rivals, yet sports-mad Norwegians will generate a sell-out at every event. Oslo needs to get its mathematics correct.
Bach remains parental in his attitude towards the inexperienced, Almaty admitting in their prospectus the absence of any previous world championship hosting. “If a city needs extra help, then we’re here to provide it, but we do not do any special financial deals,” he says.
This article was republished with permission from the editor and publisher of the Sport Intern, Karl-Heinz Huba.