Reluctant Winter Olympians (2018)

Yes, as if you don’t have enough to worry about these days . . . but the decision-process is now starting to get in gear for who will get to host the 2018 Winter Olympics! We’re reminded of this by Evi Simeoni with her article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, brought out on the occasion of the recent deadline for submission of official “bid-books” from candidate cities to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Understandably, Ms. Simeoni is particularly interested in Munich’s bid for the honor, which was delivered to Lausanne in person (because that’s simply what you do) earlier this week along with the documents of competitors Annecy (France) and Pyeongchang (South Korea). What follows from this point is inspections by the IOC’s Evaluation Committee to each site (to happen 1-3 March for the Bavarians), followed by formal presentations at the Lausanne headquarters on 18-19 May and the announcement of the decision at an IOC meeting in Durban, South Africa, on 6 July.

Wait – only three candidate cities? That’s right. Truly, the heyday of the Olympic movement must in some sense be already past, as Simeoni’s writing seems preoccupied with reasons not to volunteer to host Olympic games, and especially why it’s unlikely that Munich will get the opportunity to do so again, whether the German citizenry eventually decide they are up for it or not. For it’s a world of austerity now, and constructing the facilities and providing the various other guarantees (e.g. for adequate anti-doping control) necessary to stage either summer or winter games successfully costs a lot of money. (The German budget is €3 billion, but such estimates almost always undershoot the mark.) Yes, that can be viewed as an investment towards reaping the bonanza of throngs of tourists coming to visit and spend, but an equally-likely result is being left with a bunch of “white elephant” sports facilities with no real further reason for existence once the closing ceremonies have concluded.

Such considerations echo experiences with the (Football) World Cup – for example, South Africa has plenty of “white elephant” stadiums now, as likely will Qatar after 2022 – and in another aspect as well: corruption. Yes, the outrageous allegations surrounding the selection-process for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City were supposed to have resulted in the adoption of various anti-corruption measures – e.g. IOC Executive Committee members are forbidden from traveling to any of the candidate-cities until after the decision has been made. Then again, the world has just been treated to another spectacular example of questionable sports selection with the awarding by FIFA of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, so the suspicion has to linger that the money and effort expended to make the best bid one’s city is capable of might just be wasted in the end when the truly best applicant turns out to be mysteriously and unaccountably passed over.

That’s a particularly daunting prospect for the Munich bid organizers considering the particular obstacles they still face to pulling this off at all. For one thing, Germanophiles will recall that Munich itself is rather flat, nestled in a river valley, while one thing you definitely need for Winter Olympics is mountains for the skiiers and snowboarders to slide down on. There would seem to be a solution for this in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a skiing resort just to the south – and itself in fact the sole host of the 1936 Winter Games – except that there are apparently a number of property-holders there who are refusing to sell the land they hold which is needed for the new Olympic facilities. One way or another – what’s German for “eminent domain”? – they need to be brought round by the time the IOC inspectors come a-callin’. Besides that, though, Ms. Simeoni also mentions the possibility that the German national legislature – the Bundestag – might vote against Munich ’18 or at least show itself to be so hostile that Executive Committee voting members get the hint. Some members of the Green Party, in particular, are aghast at the environmental atrocities planned in connection with the construction of the Winter Games ’14 facilities at Sochi – then again, that’s Russia, they do things differently there – and don’t want to countenance any such thing happening in Southern Bavaria.

Ummm . . . Anyone Remember the Massacre?

There’s another objection to the Games specific to Munich that I’m surprised to see mentioned nowhere in Ms. Simeoni’s article. Does anyone remember 1972? The Olympic Games happened in Munich then, also – and things did not go so well. That’s what made me so surprised when I picked up on this FAZ article in the first place? “Munich?! Why not just invite President Obama to take an open-topped car ride through the streets of Dallas?” That there does nonetheless seem to be a serious application – bid-book, financial guarantees and all – submitted by Munich to hold Olympic Games once again must say something about how the city and entire country have moved on from the Olympic Massacre that I would love to see some knowledgeable essayist – Herr Schneider? – treat at greater length. Or maybe that is instead the big unmentionable motive behind what seems to be so much reluctance to really have the Olympics there again – if we can believe Ms. Simeoni’s account. (Consider, though: A national poll of Germans showed only a 60% level of support.)

Tipsters, here’s your hint: It’s not going to be Munich anyway. According to the article, it’s going to be the South Korean candidate, Pyeongchang – assuming there hasn’t been some devastating War of Korean Unification in-between, cross your fingers – mainly because Samsung stands solidly behind that bid and Samsung speaks very fluently the sort of language – i.e. money – that IOC officials must harken to just as much as those of FIFA. So get to your local betting offices and place your wagers – and just remember that, if you don’t happen to read German and regularly peruse the pages of the FAZ, you heard it here first!

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