The name of the Spanish bid for the Winter Games becomes a high-voltage political issue

The government of Catalonia wants the bid to be called “Pyrenees-Barcelona 2030”, but the government of Spain wants “Aragon-Catalonia 2030”. Catalonia’s desire for independence complicates the project.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a news conference at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain, September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a news conference at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain, September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Fighting to host the Olympic Games is a goal that offers more guarantees of failure than success, but everything becomes even more complicated if an agreement as basic as the name of the bid is not reached. Not to mention if, in addition, an independence process develops on the part of one of the two host regions.

This is what is happening in Spain with the bid for the Winter Olympic Games: the government of Catalonia wants the bid to be called “Pyrenees-Barcelona 2030”, but the government of Spain wants “Aragon-Catalonia 2030”.

The Spanish Olympic Committee (COE) looks favorably on that second option, although it seeks to handle things prudently.

“We have to start meetings, the name is not defined,” Alejandro Blanco, president of the COE, told Around the Rings.

But the president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, has a decision made: he has already told the Catalan regional government that it must share the candidacy with the regional government of Aragón.

The president of the Spanish Olympic Committee (COE), Alejandro Blanco
The president of the Spanish Olympic Committee (COE), Alejandro Blanco

“I want to convey to the Aragonese people as a whole that this project design through the COE will be on an equal footing. It is the two communities on an equal footing that are going to develop the candidacy,” said the head of the Spanish government this week during a visit to Zaragoza, capital of the autonomous community (region) of Aragon.

Catalonia and Aragon share the Pyrenees, Spain’s main winter sports area, but politically they are far apart.

The problem is not one of nomenclature or sports, but political. The Catalan government is seeking a referendum on self-determination that would open the door to independence from the rest of Spain. The central government in Madrid flatly refuses this possibility, claiming that it is unconstitutional, and proposes a dialogue that began this Wednesday during a visit of Sánchez to Barcelona.

It is in this sense that Javier Lambán, president of Aragón, a region with no pro-independence leanings, said that the Olympic candidacy is “a political operation of state of enormous scope”.

Pere Aragonés, president of the Catalan regional government, insists that the bid be called “Barcelona-Pyrenees 2030” and that Catalonia be pre-eminent in this bid to bring the Winter Games to Spain for the first time in its history.

But Aragonés goes even further: he is not so much thinking of bringing the Games to Spain, but rather that these will be the first in an independent Catalonia.

“I am counting on the fact that before 2030 we will have reached an agreement for the resolution of the political conflict and that Catalonia will have voted,” the Catalan head of government said at the end of August.

“We want Catalonia to vote in a recognized way, and if it does so before 2030 it will be the first Games in which we will participate under our flag,” he added.

Sanchez, who wants to cool tempers and prolong in time the negotiation with Catalonia, also referred to the candidacy of Spain and Portugal to host the World Cup in 2030, and recalled the impact of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, as well as the Universal Exposition of Seville in the same year.

“It is progressing at a good pace and we have encouraging news. The year 2030 can become a 1992 for the country in terms of sports, in terms of international visibility and from the point of view of the economic development of areas that need public investment and greater attention from public institutions.”

If the Spanish bid advances, four rivals are in the running: Vancouver, Salt Lake City, Sapporo and Ukraine.

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