Oslo 2022 bid hurt by IOC demands, arrogance
STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — Norway’s ruling conservative party didn’t reject a government financial guarantee for the Oslo 2022 Winter Olympics bid lightly.
But fears about spiraling costs and dissatisfaction at the perceived high handedness of the International Olympic Committee sparked anger in this fiercely egalitarian nation, making it impossible for lawmakers to back the bid.
That vote on Wednesday killed Norway’s bid and narrowed the list of potential 2022 Winter Olympic hosts to Beijing and Almaty in Kazakhstan.
On the morning of the vote, the country’s largest national daily newspaper, VG, printed demands the IOC would make to Oslo as host, including IOC members enjoying a cocktail reception with the King and having special lanes for Olympic traffic.
Conservative lawmaker Geir Inge Sivertsen publicly came out against the Oslo bid days before the vote, but said there was no doubt that the latest “very strange demands from the IOC” swayed the party, which he thinks had been narrowly in favor of underwriting the bid.
“Norway is a rich country, but we don’t want to spend money on wrong things, like satisfying the crazy demands from IOC apparatchiks,” said Frithjof Jacobsen, VG’s chief political commentator. “These insane demands that they should be treated like the king of Saudi Arabia just won’t fly with the Norwegian public.”
IOC spokesman Mark Adams blamed the Norwegian media of misreporting the situation.
“The documents have been widely and often deliberately misreported,” Adams said in an email to The Associated Press on Saturday. “Even a cursory glance would show they contain suggestions and guidance, not demands. These were gathered from previous games organizers and are advice on how to improve the games experience for all.”
IOC President Thomas Bach also accused the reporting of being overblown and claimed the decision not to back the bid was a purely “political” decision by a party in a minority government.
“I do not want to criticize the press, but it is very difficult how you make out of the fact that since 1896 every head of state was opening the Olympic Games according to the Olympic Charter,” Bach told The AP. “How you can make out of this fact a request for a cocktail party? This is really not easy to understand.”
The IOC’s 7,000-page manual on running the games does say that a pre-Olympic gathering for IOC members should include a meeting with the head of state, and insists upon a strict protocol for the order in which he should greet his guests and seating in the stadium.
The manual on protocols also says the opening ceremony “is usually preceded by an aperitif and followed by a reception.”
“By tradition, the reception is hosted by the national Olympic committee,” it said.
Norwegian dissatisfaction with the IOC dates back long before Wednesday’s lurid headlines.
In May, the junior partner in the government coalition, the right-wing Progress Party, said it would vote against underwriting the bid.
“There were two arguments against the bid. One was the financial part — most Olympic budgets end up being much more expensive. But the IOC’s arrogance was an argument held high by a lot of people in our party,” said Ole Berget, a deputy minister in the Finance Ministry. “Norwegian culture is really down to earth. When you get these IOC demands that are quite snobby, Norwegian people cannot be satisfied.”
As the most successful Winter Olympics nation, Norway’s might in winter sports far outweighs its normal international influence.
Now some Norwegians fear that Oslo’s rejection of the 2022 games and yielding them to a host with little interest in winter sports might help catalyze a fatal decline.
“I fear for the future of the Winter Olympics, I really do,” said Svein Harberg, a Norwegian lawmaker and leader of the parliamentary committee for cultural affairs that was leading the debate on scrapping the bid.
In its day-long party meeting Wednesday, Harberg said lawmakers battled with what might happen to the games in the event of a “No” vote.
Bach maintains the Winter Games has not suffered because of Norway’s decision and that their reputation is intact, citing the recent signing of new long-term agreements with sponsors and television companies, including the record $7.75 billion deal with NBC for U.S. TV rights through 2023.
“The image is very positive,” Bach said. “Nobody would enter into such kind of agreements if there would be a doubt on the image.”
Unfortunately for the IOC, the debate playing out in newspapers and TV screens in Norway has made words like “sponsors” and “TV rights” lightning rods for dissatisfaction with the Olympic process and the IOC in particular.
The perceived profligacy of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pet project, which reportedly cost some $50 billion — is viewed with disgust in Norway.
Opposition to the bid and the IOC also mounted after it reprimanded four Norwegian female cross-country skiers in Sochi for wearing black armbands in memory of an athlete’s brother who died on the eve of the games.
An unusually strongly worded statement the day after the Oslo rejection in which IOC executive director Christophe Dubi said Norway’s decision to pull out was based on “half-truths and factual inaccuracies” only soured the mood more.
“I was quite shocked about this at first,” Harberg said. “I was angry when I looked at it. But now I realize that it just shows we made the right decision.”
AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson in London contributed to this report