ARE THE WINTER OLYMPICS IN TROUBLE?
21st October 2017 | James Cove, PlanetSKI Editor
Fast forward the clock to June 11th 2018 and the votes in the previous day’s referendum have been counted.
The result is out and the people of the Valais canton in Switzerland have voted to halt an official bid from Sion for the 2026 Winter Games in its tracks.
This comes despite the fact:
- The bid includes little new infrastructure and reduced costs.
- The sporting events were going to be spread around the country so it is not just the host city that benefits.
- The city sits in the heart of the Alps surrounded by snowy peaks.
- A love of snowsports runs through its veins.
- Winter tourism and snowsports is a vital part of the local economy.
Fanciful doom mongering?
Well exactly the same could be said of Innsbruck in Austria that has voted against holding the 2026 Games.
Last weekend the city itself voted against by a margin of 67% to 33%.
It was the last of 379 municipalities to be counted and it was the decisive vote that sent the 2026 Winter Olympics packing.
Across the Tirol it was closer – 53% to 47%.
Innsbruck was seen by observers as a far stronger contender than Sion as it is seen as an ‘Olympic City’ having held the Games twice (1964 and 1976) and it hosted a successful & popular Youth Winter Olympics in 2012.
So, what is going wrong?
With reforms in place to make the biding process simpler and cheaper it is perhaps time to look elsewhere.
The brand image of the Olympics.
This week prosecutors in Brazil have formally charged the former head of the country’s Olympics committee, Carlos Nuzman, with corruption over the Rio summer games.
A payment of $2m (£1.52m) was allegedly made to secure votes for the Rio bid.
He denies running a criminal organisation, money laundering and violating currency laws.
The case will come to trial but much damage has already been done simply by him being charged.
It appears to be yet another example of corruption that was first exposed in the bidding for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
And then there is the fallout from the Sochi doping scandal at the last Winter Olympics in 2014 in Russia.
It appears to have been on an industrial and state-sponsored scale if the allegations prove to be correct.
It’s impact on the image of the games cannot be underestimated and it has tarnished the winter Olympic brand.
There is also a belief, real or otherwise, that the Olympics is a self-serving organisation with too many people having their snouts in the trough.
Too many administrators, too many backhanders, too much self-importance and pomposity.
Too many cocktail receptions and limousine services for members of the Olympic Family as roads are closed for mere mortals – the locals.
The Olympics appear to make demands rather than bring rewards.
This was certainly the view as people of Oslo, Stockholm, Krakow and others rejected hosting the 2020 Games.
It became a 2-horse race between Almaty and Beijing.
It went to Beijing that has no mountains and little history of winter sports. And no snow.
Many local people with a financial interest in winter tourism – hotels, restaurants, bars, ski school – do not want the Games as the public actually stays away and overall visitor numbers drop.
However there are some major factors outside the control of the International Olympic Committee.
There is a general mood in elections and referendums that people vote against the Establishment and reject being told what to do – think Trump and Brexit.
So, what can be done?
The athletes need to be put centre stage rather than being used as the backdrop to the wider event.
Any cheats and their sporting federations should be expelled.
The games need to get back to basics – fair sporting competition on snow and ice.
The athletes need to be the stars of the show and they need to appear to be the beneficiaries rather than the bureaucrats.
Each time decisions are taken it needs to be asked how this benefits the athletes.
I am not a betting man but if I were I know where I would put my money on the outcome of the
June 10th 2018 referendum in Switzerland.
The people of cities like Oslo, Innsbruck and Sion should be clamouring to host the Greatest Show on Earth.
Instead they seem to want nothing to do with it.
And that is deeply worrying for those of us that love wintersports.
There has been some reaction over on our Facebook page:
See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.
For the Spirit of the Mountains – PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news