Oslo has withdrawn its bid to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games after the Norwegian government denied the initiative of funding due to mounting public opposition, leaving Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan as the remaining contenders.
Despite being a winter sport-loving country and consistently one of the top Winter Games podium finishers, public support for the bid has been inadequate, with one International Olympic Committee (IOC) evaluation poll over the summer showing only 36 per cent support across the country and 50 per cent against.
Comparatively, support for the Games is 65 per cent in Kazakhstan and 92 per cent in China and governments in both states have backed their bids.
“It’s important to get broad support for such an expensive project and there is not enough to carry thought such a project,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told NRK Television. The bid collapsed after her majority Conservative government voted against providing the required government guarantee.
The estimated cost of operating the Oslo Games and building the required infrastructure is estimated at $5.4-billion for the nation of just five million people.
The IOC issued a rare strongly-worded statement in response to the negative publicity from Oslo’s decision to withdraw. “This is a missed opportunity to make the most of the $880-million investment the IOC would have made to the Games that would have built a considerable legacy for the people,” said Christophe Dubi, IOC Executive Director of the Olympic Games
“The most recent editions of the Olympic Winter Games (for instance Vancouver and Sochi), which have all either broken even or made a profit, have made sponsorship revenue four times higher than that.”
The Norwegian bid team also arranged for a meeting with the IOC to explain all the requirements and costs. “Unfortunately, Oslo sent neither a senior member of the bid team nor a government official to this meeting. For this reason senior politicians in Norway appear not to have been properly briefed on the process and were left to take their decisions on the basis of half-truths and factual inaccuracies.”
Norwegians also fumed over some of the IOC’s diva-like demands for its members including:
Interest with hosting the 2022 Winter Games has been the weakest since the race for the 2006 event when Torino, Italy and Sion, Switzerland were the only bid candidates.
Sochi 2014’s mammoth $51-billion Winter Olympics and the negative publicity Brazil has gained for its sluggish and costly 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics preparations have made governments in democratic societies extra cautious with pursuing major sporting events.
Similar cost concerns hovered over the Olympic host city selection process in the early-1980s, prior to the IOC’s establishment of a highly orchestrated plan to raise significant sources of revenue through global corporate sponsorship partnerships and television rights.
In fact, only one city submitted a bid to host the 1984 Summer Olympics; Los Angeles won its 1984 bid by default after Tehran, Iran withdrew its bid. For the 1980 selection, the candidates were Moscow and Los Angeles, with the former winning the bid.
The cities that have already dropped out of the running for 2022 include Krakow (Poland), Munich (Germany), Davos/St. Moritz (Switzerland), Stockholm (Sweden) and Lviv (Ukraine).
Facing widespread mounting criticism, the IOC needed Oslo to provide the organization with much-needed legitimacy – to demonstrate that autocratic states are not the only hosts of the Olympics.
China’s human rights record and environmental conditions continue to deteriorate, despite promises of lasting reforms and changes as a legacy of hosting the Beijing 2008 Summer Games.
Meanwhile, oil-wealthy Kazkahstan has been ruled by President Nursultan Nazarbayev since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. He has won landslide majorities in the nation’s highly questionable elections, and in 2007 a constitution amendment was made to eliminate term limits on his presidency.
Oslo was also the bid with the most sound technical plan, receiving the highest grades for nearly all 14 categories including: competition venues, Olympic Village, media facilities, environmental impact, accommodation, transportation, security, telecommunications and energy, legal aspects, and overall concept and experience. The Norwegian plan utilizes experience and some of the venues built for the highly successful 1994 Winter Games at nearby Lillehammer.
With Beijing, its bid proponents plan on utilizing existing venues built for the 2008 Summer Games to the fullest extent wherever possible. With the exception of speed skating, all competitions played on ice surfaces will be held at existing indoor venues within the Chinese capital.
Alpine and cross country skiing events are slated for new venues in the mountains at Zhangjiakou in Hebei province, about 220 kilometres away from downtown Beijing. Highway improvements and the construction of a new high-speed railway will shorten the trip to Zhangjiakou from the current five hours to just 40 minutes.
Air pollution levels in eight years time could be an issue, but the Chinese overcame this in 2008 by restricting vehicle usage and shutting down pollution-emitting factories.
Almaty is relatively unknown and does not possess any proven experience with hosting major events. More importantly, in the IOC’s Working Group Report, it failed to meet the Olympic benchmark – the minimum acceptable grade scores for eight of the 14 evaluation categories.
This leaves the IOC with a new frontrunner – Beijing, the city that will likely become the first to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
The IOC will vote for the 2022 host city on July 31, 2015. If Beijing is selected, Asia will host three consecutive Olympics following Rio de Janeiro 2016 with Pyeongchang (Korea) hosting 2018 and Tokyo in 2020. This was another situation the IOC wanted to avoid with Oslo in the running.
Feature Image: Beijing Bird’s Nest Stadium via Shutterstock