Op Ed -- 2022 Olympics Race for Survivors Only

(ATR) Around the Rings editor-in-chief Ed Hula says the size of the 2022 Winter Olympic bidding field may belie its strength.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 15:  Cycling fans walk past the Olympic Rings at sunset inside the Olympic Park before attending Revolution 5 at the Velodrome in the Lee Valley Velopark on March 15, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 15: Cycling fans walk past the Olympic Rings at sunset inside the Olympic Park before attending Revolution 5 at the Velodrome in the Lee Valley Velopark on March 15, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

(ATR) Air pollution, public opposition, and inexperience - despite shortcomings like these among the three bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics, some IOC members call it a strong field.

Almaty, Beijing, and Oslo are the survivors in a race that started with six official contenders. Public opposition led to the demise of Stockholm and Krakow. Lviv dropped out as a result of the unstable situation between Ukraine and Russia. The 2022 field could have had two more cities, but officials in Germany and Switzerland didn’t even bother to file with the IOC after referenda rejected Olympic bids.

Oslo still appears to be tottering on the brink of extinction for 2022. Months away from parliamentary debate to decide whether to commit government guarantees, the latest public opinion polling from the IOC shows 50 percent opposition to a second winter Olympics for Oslo. Just 36 percent are in favor, the lowest among the three candidate cities, and half the approval rating of Beijing and Almaty.

It will be difficult to see Oslo progressing without a reversal in public opinion that would generate government support. Oslo bid leaders hope polling of young people showing widespread support for the Winter Olympics changes some minds.

If the IOC is counting on a bid from Norway, it will need to do all it can to curry favor with the public and the government. Some of the points causing friction in Oslo are IOC requirements for accommodations and transport spelled out in the host city contract. It remains to be seen whether the IOC will hand over contracts that tone down some of the more onerous demands made of host cities in the interest of dodging criticism – and making it easier for cities to bid.

In the report of the IOC Working Group on the 2022 cities released this week, Almaty and Beijing are both flagged as places with bad air for Winter Olympians and spectators to breathe. For the Chinese capital, air quality improvements made for the 2008 Summer Games appear to have been illusory. Indeed, in the time since the Olympics, reports of air pollution in Beijing seem to have gotten worse.

While we have previously flagged Almaty as a favorite to claim the Games, the IOC report on the 2022 cities does its best to poke holes in this balloon. Besides air pollution, the report says the city is inexperienced in hosting big sports events and that it is over estimating marketing revenues.

And, oh yes, the site for the Olympic Village may turn out to be totally inappropriate due to environmental issues, which could possibly force a difficult venue change.

The IOC report raises alarm over Internet access issues in Kazakhstan, but curiously does not mention this in the section on Beijing. After the public relations debacle involving Internet during the Beijing Olympics, the IOC must be a glutton for punishment to consider again putting the Games behind the Great Firewall of China.

In fact, the IOC report gives much favor to the Beijing bid. There are worries about traffic and pollution, but no reservations expressed about organizers’ ability to deliver the venues and infrastructure needed to host the Games. While Beijing is saluted for using venues built for 2008, the prospect of building a high-speed rail line to connect the city with alpine venues two hours north may not be the kind of billion-dollar project the IOC wants to see in a city bidding for the Games.

And even if Beijing has the ways and the means to host a Winter Olympics, would this most unlikely of settings be a boost or a bust for the IOC? A Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 would be two Winter Games in a row from Asia with PyeongChang in 2018 and the third Games in a row with Tokyo hosting 2020.

Exotic though it is, Almaty could be a challenging location to build worldwide interest, remote as it is in Central Asia. Of the three candidates cities, Almaty may be the most photogenic, the only city that features mountains on the skyline.

Oslo is the place where winter sports are ingrained into the culture, where a winter Olympics seems as natural as the World Cup going to Brazil. Despite the fit, Norwegians apparently are uncomfortable donning this cloak, just as some Brazilians have expressed their regrets about playing host to the World Cup pageantry.

Oslo could be a prohibitive favorite to win 2022. Presumed support from dozens of European IOC members as well as those in the Americas could come close to giving Oslo a first-round victory when the IOC votes next July at the session in Kuala Lumpur.

Or Oslo could go the way of every other city so far that’s been challenged to round up public opinion in favor of hosting the 2022 Olympics. In this campaign of attrition, Oslo may simply become the latest casualty.

Only the strong will survive.

Written by Ed Hula.

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