With just over a year before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) convenes for its 127th session to select the host city of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, it seems that these are becoming ‘The Games That Nobody Wants To Host’.
That was the title of a recent article by The Guardian in light of the dismal interest in hosting the 24th edition of the quadrennial Winter Games.
A handful of cities have dropped out of the running over the last few months. Krakow, Poland withdrew its bid earlier this week after a referendum indicated that 70 per cent did not want to host the Games.
Voters in Munich, one of the early frontrunners and the host of the 1972 Summer Games, and neighbouring Davos/St.Moritz, Switzerland also rejected proposals to submit bids after unsuccessful referendums. The Swedish capital of Stockholm withdrew its bid in January when its City Council refused to support the bid due to mounting financial costs.
Norwegian proponents hope to repeat Lillehammer 1994 success, but they are a minority with polls indicating only 35 per cent support of an Oslo bid. Bids with low public support are usually not considered as feasible hosts.
Like these cities, Vancouver’s 2010 bid was nearly extinguished when municipal voters in February 2003 casted their ballots on the Olympic question. The referendum result of 64 per cent ‘yes’ allowed the bid effort to continue and eventually defeat Pyeongchang, South Korea and Salzburg, Austria to host the Games.
With Lviv, Ukraine, they have bigger issues to worry about after Russia invaded their country the day after the Sochi 2014 Closing Ceremony.
The IOC will announce its shortlist of candidate cities in July after reviewing the feasibility of each application. The race could very well come down to just two cities: Beijing and Almaty.
Beijing, the host of the 2008 Summer Games, has the infrastructure to host the Winter Games. It proposes to hold snow-based sporting events at the mountains of Zhangjiakou, some 174 kms northwest of the Chinese capital city.
A high-speed rail line with a journey time of just 40 minutes between the two cities will open next year, but heavy winter air pollution will likely be amongst the IOC’s concerns when it evaluates the bid in full.
That leaves the IOC with Almaty, a financial and cultural hub in Central Asia with nearly 1.5 million residents – the largest city in Kazakhstan.
So why is interest in bidding for these Winter Games melting away?
It could very well have to do with the gargantuan costs that are now associated with it, especially following Sochi’s mammoth $51 billion price tag – dwarfing even the much larger Beijing 2008 Summer Games which cost $44 billion.
Similar cost concerns hung over the Olympic host city selection process in the early-1980s, prior to the IOC’s establishment of a highly orchestrated plan to raise significant sources of revenue through global corporate sponsorship partnerships and television rights.
In fact, only one city submitted a bid to host the 1984 Summer Olympics; Los Angeles won its 1984 bid by default after Tehran, Iran withdrew its bid.
Is history repeating itself?
As the Guardian notes, there is also the issue of prestige – it is not assured. One only has to look at the pre-Games media attention that Sochi received, ranging from human rights issues to the poor quality of accommodations (stray dogs in your hotel room?).
While preparations for Pyeongchang 2018 have been relatively smooth and Tokyo 2020 will likely be a worry-free event for the IOC, organization for the upcoming 2014 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro have been deemed as the “worst ever” by IOC vice-president John Coates – worst than even Athens 2004.
So where does Vancouver stand in all of this? Twelve years after 2010, and with preparations beginning next year following the selection of the host city, can we and should we host the Winter Olympics again?
Aside from what public support that such an idea would receive, the answer is no.
While sports venues and the necessary transportation infrastructure already exist from the 2010 Winter Games, there are some challenges to overcome.
New Olympic Villages at Vancouver and Whistler would have to be built; the Whistler Olympic Village is now occupied with residents and the City of Vancouver just recently paid off its entire $630 million debt to construct the Southeast False Creek development in time for 2010.
Some major sports venues have undergone multi-million dollar post-Games usage conversions and would require expensive retrofits to make them competition ready again while also disrupting public usage to the facilities.
The speed skating track at the Richmond Olympic Oval has been replaced with courts for basketball, badminton, soccer and volleyball as well as two sheets of hockey ice rinks. A membership-based fitness gym has also been built into the upper levels of the oval, space that was used for temporary stadium grandstands in 2010.
The curling facility at the base of Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park underwent the most expensive transformation. Space that was used for stadium seating has been converted into a branch of the Vancouver Public Library, community gathering areas and gymnasium.
There are also logistical issues at hand with condominium tower and casino-hotel resort developments encroaching the perimeters of both BC Place Stadium and Rogers Arena. In 2010, these areas were used for not only ticketing and staging areas but also a security buffer.
Another challenge with bringing the Games back to Vancouver also comes with the seemingly infinite lists of logistical and organizational planning items that would have to be tackled. For Vancouver 2010, addressing these issues began in 1996 when the idea of a bid was first floated.
This even includes finding suitable and relatively central office space for a local organizing committee to work in.
For VANOC, they called a East Vancouver office building home for nearly five years. At its peak, the 250,000 square foot building at 3585 Gravely Street was occupied by nearly 3,000 Olympic staff. After a $15 million renovation in 2011, it is now home to the new headquarters of the Vancouver Police Department, which relocated from its old Downtown Eastside Main Street location.
While infrastructural and construction costs would be relatively low, there is also the sponsorship and government fundraising efforts to contend with to cover the costs of the operational side of hosting the Winter Olympics.
For 2010, VANOC had an operational budget of $1.76 billion to cover costs that include staff salaries; organizational administrative and legal costs; the cost to operate the sports venues, Olympic Village, IBC, MPC; the cost to stage the Ceremonies, Torch Relay, public celebrations and cultural activities; bus transportation costs; marketing; city decorations; and the cost to outfit and train volunteers.
Within its domestic fundraising responsibilities to fund the organization’s operational costs, VANOC raised $760 million in Canadian domestic sponsorship, securing major key deals with Bell Media, RBC, Rona, Hudson’s Bay Company and Air Canada.
With all that said, the deadline to submit a formal letter of interest to the IOC for the 2022 Winter Games bid race was in November 2013. The IOC would have to be pretty desperate to consider a previous host city such as Vancouver.
This was done in 1972 when Innsbruck, the host city of the 1964 Winter Games, was called upon to replace Denver as the host city of the 1976 Winter Games. Through a referendum held after it had been awarded the Olympics, Denver voters decided to reject its obligation to host the event.
At this point, Beijing could very well be in the position to become the first city in history to host both the Summer and Winter Games.
Featured Image: Clayton Perry Photography