If Norway hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics, they would be the best Winter Olympics conceivable. It isn’t just that Norway is loaded — they have so much oil money they pile their kroner on barges at night and send them out into the fijords so they don’t look nouveau riche — it’s that they have more snow than they know what to do with.
Their breakfast buffets are killingly delicious, their outdoor cafés offer bearskins to chilly customers, they have no racism in their souls, their writers — Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbo, Karl Ove Knausgaard to name only a few — are stark yet loving. They are so winter-adept that foreigners wouldn’t have to say, “The host country is, um, striving bravely for bronze,” their trams are world-class, and all Norwegians are in a band. And the great thing about Oslo is that swathes of it are so shabby — fancy is not part of the Norwegian ethos — that they could really use an Olympic Village-style spruce-up.
But Oslo looks at its dire greyish areas, sniffs manfully and says, “We think six northern farmers need a motorway,” and the money flows out to Norwegian Hootervilles.
It’s cheap to fly there. Canada could decamp to Norway in 2022 and dwarf its population of five million (they’re tall though), and everyone could have a wonderful time in the planet’s “heart of winter,” as the Toronto Star’s wise Bruce Arthur has aptly described that great country.
But it was not to be. This week Norway declined to bid rather briskly for a nation of polite people, and the reason is that if you’re a democracy, you can’t be too rude to the 115-member International Olympic Committee. They are arrogant, they reek of imperial power, they are like portly ill-favoured retro-rockers with an impossible list of dressing room requirements, and Norway doesn’t like that.
If Norway had bid and won, reported the Financial Times of London, the IOC had 7,000 pages of conditions. To start with, they wanted a free drinks reception with King Harald and his family, chauffeured cars, their own street lanes with traffic lights adjusted for them, mobile phones with free roaming, late bar closing, 24-hour room service, and “high quality” food. And they demanded all advertising space in Oslo be handed over to the Games’ official sponsors. Basically the Olympics have become a corporate festival with passes for Eurotrash.
As the Norwegian newspaper VP put it, the IOC was demanding a “pampeparty,” or “pampering party,” and a nation covered in Coke billboards and forced to drink the stuff all day.
The thing is, the IOC can easily persuade the last remaining bidders, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, to provide those things. China has a class system worse than Britain’s — it’s American in that it’s cash-based — and Kazakhstan, land of Borat, would trade its children for speed-skating rinks built entirely of shelled shrimp, if that would please the IOC.
But the IOC couldn’t even entice the Norwegians to send one bid team member to a meeting, the FT said. Do you understand, IOC? They don’t like you. Norway is not your friend. Go build fake snow in Beijing and sweep it every two hours as the pollution turns it brown, like a steak.
No smart nation is game for the Games any more. The moral slide began, arguably, with Greece holding the Olympic Games in 2004 for reasons of history. It worked symbolically but seems pitiful in light of what we now know about Greek bookkeeping. Photographers build careers wandering around the world’s tatty dustbowl Olympic stadiums. Sochi is a ghost town. Letting the brutal Chinese and Russian governments put on plastic shows in 2008 and 2014 made it even worse.
Allison Stewart, a Montreal-born professor working at Oxford studying Olympic cost overruns, told the FT that every budget has overflowed its original bid by an average of 179 per cent. Nations have to decide if they can live with that. Creating an Olympics from scratch is like “building a Fortune 500 company in less than seven years” and then shutting it down, she said.
With climate change, fewer snowy countries are as reliably snowbound as they thought they were. Surely the IOC would be begging for the planet’s Big Snow nations to bid, and they were, throwing a hissy fit when rejected. Krakow (skis, poles, get it?), Stockholm (its welcome of Syrian refugees makes Sweden even more symbolic of the Olympic dream) and Lviv (in Ukraine, not good) said no, and referendums in Germany and Switzerland went nowhere. In the midst of the Euro crisis, Germany couldn’t possibly play the big spender.
The problem is partly that the world likes summer Olympics because the sports are more accessible. People have lakes to swim in, and even in desperately poor nations, people can run, jump and kick a soccer ball. Hockey rinks are expensive. Worldwide viewers like to watch sports they could theoretically rehearse.
I like the winter Olympics because I can cross-country ski and shovel. But even I will not watch Winter Games in Beijing. It’s a travesty. It is uncool. Of Kazakhstan, I can only say that it does not boil its prisoners, as Uzbekistan dLake id, though now it freezes them. A human rights lawyer, Vadim Kuramshin, studying prisoner abuse in Kazakhstan won a human rights prize recently but was unable to collect it, the Guardian reported last year. Arrested on false charges, he is now in Kazakhstan’s most notorious prison.
Let the Games begin, or not.