While Britain’s parliament was yesterday debating whether to extend a Middle East war, Norway was experiencing a profound change of heart.
The IOC is not so evil after all.
A year ago, Norway’s politicians effectively told the IOC to get lost, rejecting their NOC’s bid for the Olympic Winter Games of 2022. Too costly, too brazen, too big. Find some manners – never mind that the IOC was radically about to do so at the Agenda 2020 Extraordinary Session.
Now the flame to grace Lillehammer’s Youth Games in to months’ tie arrived in Oslo from Greece. An enchanting scene in the central city square fronting Parliament recaptured the intimate simplicity of Lillehammer’s memorable opening ceremony 22 years ago: made foreigners recognise once more that Norway’s respectful, unostentatious way of life is pretty much a lesson in how to live. Modest, truthful, companionable.
As hundreds paused on their way home from work, and school children who one day may become Nordic Olympic champions, skidded on a sprinkling of snow, the Kings Guard brass band struck up to welcome the arrival of legendary winter hero Vegard Ulvang bearing the lantern containing the flame.
This will now be on display in Parliament for a month, before moving on to Lillehammer. Amundsen showed the world how to reach the South Pole (with dogs). Norway knows how to preserve De Coubertin’s sporting ideology.
It was an irony that the flame should be fetched by multi medal winner Ulvang who in 1994 had been the fiercest critic of a commercially bloated IOC – though he ultimately shook hands with Juan Antonio Samaranch during what became a near-perfect festival in -29C degrees.
Ulvang differentiates between principles and practicalities. “Lillehammer’s Youth Games will be what I hope a Games can be,” he says. “Sport is so much more than a battle for medals. The development of all sport in Norway over the years has been totally dependent on parents, working with local clubs for no pay. That’s what should be the foundation of the Youth Games’ concept, bringing principles together from different cultures.”
Ulvang is concerned that contemporary youth, born some years after 1994, is without knowledge of an event so special. “That story need to be retold, the scenario of thousands sleeping in the fields for the expectation of watching great deeds. As the world gets richer and more materialistic, people forget that sport is basically about people spending time together. Sport is a meeting place. The core values of sport are information, knowledge, experience, that’s why it’s imperative to bring the new generation into the Olympic field.”
Has so much changed in two decades? “A lot of water has flowed into the sea, but Olympic ideals will never be out of date. It’s the organisation that is the challenge. If we want change in the IOC, it has to be from the inside, that’s why we’re so eager in Norway for a new ‘Olympic movement’”.
Was withdrawal of the Oslo bid for 2022 a missed opportunity? Ulvang reflects: “Western democracy has some hard media players. The IOC has an image problem, but a lot of the (home) media argument was wrong, the IOC has changed. Yet because of the size (of the main Games), there needs to be still more change.”
From the winter chill outside, the official party moved into Parliament House. A gospel choir sang, soft drinks were served, a cavalcade of famous sporting names and some yet to become famous were interviewed: speaking, though I understand no Norwegian, with an articulate clarity that would put to shame many millionaire celebrity sport stars. Olemic Thommessen, President of Parliament – who in this Scandinavian democracy ranks second only to the King – could not be more dedicated to the Olympic project. “It’s wonderful that we’re doing this, calling on the classic values of Ancient Greece,” he says. “We might learn and live together in combination, to pick up ideals, to introduce these to a new generation, to keep the Olympic Movement going. But the Movement has to lift itself beyond mere competition and money.”
Thommessen rejects the notion that Norway last year lost faith in the Olympics. “It was just too expensive for a nation of only five million people, you can’t compare Norway with countries such as China and Russia, which don’t have to consult their voters. Things will have to be done very differently if we are to consider a bid in the future.”
This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.