Oslo May Be Mad For Winter Games — But Not So Much For Hosting Them
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Norwegians love winter sports. Their haul of 26 medals in Sochi placed them third behind Russia and the U.S., a disproportionate haul. So you might think people in Oslo would be thrilled that their city is a likely contender to host the 2022 Winter Games.
But Sidsel Overgaard found that's not always the case.
SIDSEL OVERGAARD, BYLINE: It's a brisk night in Oslo, a new dusting of snow on the ground. In the city center, mittened children scrape and twirl on an outdoor rink, torn up by a day's hard use.
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OVERGAARD: At a nearby pub, a few hardy souls are standing outside enjoying a pint. And they're more than happy to dive in on this subject.
VEDAR MYKLEBYST: We don't want the Olympics. No, why should we? We have enough things to use our money on.
OVERGAARD: Vedar Myklebyst says he'd rather see the Norway's oil wealth go to things like hospitals and schools. His friend Morten Andersen is against the idea, too, but for a different reason.
MORTEN ANDERSEN: We could definitely afford it, the money is no problem. But I think we have a problem with space because Oslo is very tiny. So if we got a lot of visitors, that would present a problem for, you know, commute - you know, the bus and trains and everything. They're already crowded enough as it is.
OVERGAARD: These two men seem to speak for a growing number of people here. In a fall referendum, 55 percent of Oslo residents voted to move forward with an Olympic bid. But a recent newspaper survey suggests support has fallen to about 45 percent. In Beijing, another contender for the 2022 games, one poll puts support at 85 percent. Though with the 2018 and 2020 Olympics both slated for Asia, China may be a long shot this time around. The other contenders, Poland, Kazakhstan and Ukraine come with their own challenges. Andersen, meanwhile, admits he could be persuaded.
ANDERSEN: I voted no. But I won't march in a parade against it either. I'm sort of fine either way. But leaning towards, no.
MAYOR FABIAN STANG: It's always easy to say no to something.
OVERGAARD: Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang says he's not too worried about the poll numbers. He's seen this before.
STANG: We had the same discussion when we had the games in Lillehammer. It wasn't that many who were positive 10 years ahead. But then after the games, I think it was 99 percent who thought it was fantastic.
OVERGAARD: But things are a little different than they were in 1994. There's no question that Norwegians have been put off by the excesses of Sochi - Stang gets that. But he also says that's exactly why the IOC needs Oslo, a city in a democratic country with a lot less to prove.
STANG: The best thing we can offer is to show that these kinds of competitions, again, can be arranged in a smaller scale. You don't need an extra lane on the street. You don't need special kind of hotels. It's possible to travel people with the tube or the tram or buses.
OVERGAARD: The theme for Oslo's bid is Games in the City, the idea being that most events would take place within five miles of the city center. And Stang says the roughly $6 billion budget would pay for infrastructure already needed to accommodate Oslo's growing population.
That approach does seem to resonate with Oslo residents like Grethe Veiaker Nielsen, who would clearly be proud to offer the world a lesson in Nordic restraint.
GRETHE VEIAKER NIELSEN: We are a simple people, you could say. Extravagance is not a very Norwegian thing. It's not for us.
OVERGAARD: Not that it wouldn't be a party, says her friend Kathrine Naess.
KATHRINE NAESS: We are so enthusiastic about the Olympics. Winter Olympics is special wherever it is.
OVERGAARD: And that she says it's why it's almost Norway's duty to buy a round every once in a while.
NAESS: We want to join the party. We should also be hostess of the party. You see? And we can afford to be.
OVERGAARD: Which these days, is not something too many countries can honestly say. For NPR news I'm Sidsel Overgaard in Oslo.
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