Editorial Board

An Olympic Gold Medal for Norway

Norway's decision not to bid for the 2022 Olympic Games is a clear sign there's something wrong with the whole city-selection process.
Not everyone wants to be a winner.

Bravo to Norway for withdrawing its application to hold the 2022 Winter Olympics in Oslo. Nothing better illustrates the disrepute into which bidding for the games has fallen, or how drastically the process needs to be changed.

This is Norway, remember, whose 5 million people are mad-crazy for any sport involving skis or skates. Norway, which has won more Winter Olympics medals than any other country. Norway, whose per capita gross domestic product is more than $100,000.

If anyone has the desire, weather conditions, facilities and cash to put on the Winter Olympics, it is the Norwegians.

Even so, the government has pulled out in the face of public opposition, an apparently contagious condition. Germany and Switzerland -- also major skiing nations -- initially planned bids but changed their minds after losing referendums on the idea. Lviv, in Ukraine, withdrew for obvious reasons in June, while Poland's Krakow pulled its bid in May after 70 percent of the city voted against it. Only China and Kazakhstan remain -- two authoritarian regimes with poor human-rights records and no need to consider what their people think.

This popular recoil from Olympics hosting is a rational response to the excess and corruption of the games in Sochi, Russia, last February, and the painful spectacle of Rio de Janeiro struggling to deliver the next Summer Olympics -- not to mention the corruption in Qatar, where hundreds of construction workers have died in the effort to build air-conditioned soccer stadiums in the desert for the 2022 World Cup.

The International Olympic Committee says it understands the problem and is drawing up reforms. If so, they clearly weren't ready in time for the 2022 bids. One reason Oslo won't be hosting the games is that it involves 7,000 pages of IOC requirements, which include a free Samsung mobile phone and service for all IOC members and a cocktail party with the king, paid for by the royal family. The budget for the games (invariably a wild underestimate) was to be $5.5 billion.

After Norway threw up its hands, the IOC issued a testy response, berating the country for missing the "opportunity" to accept the committee's $880 million contribution and boldly claiming that the Sochi Games broke even. Maybe they did on operating costs, but certainly not on the estimated $50 billion that Russia spent in total.

The best way to fix this broken process would be to get rid of it, and give the Summer and Winter Olympics permanent homes on land under international control. Or pick a handful of permanent locations around the world, so the games could rotate among continents? If even that idea is too radical, there's plenty that could be done to pare the games back to a size that would make cities want to host them.

The cost of putting together a successful bid for the games has at least tripled since proposals were drawn up for the 2010 Olympics. The games themselves have gotten too big: Capacity requirements force cities to ignore their existing sports venues, and the number of hotel rooms needed for athletes, Olympic officials and media -- almost 25,000 -- use up all the existing space the average host city has to offer. That means a new hotel room for every spectator.

The huge construction cost -- and later redundancy -- all this implies is made worse by IOC rules that prevent the games from being held across borders or among several cities. If the Olympics must remain a traveling circus, the IOC needs to slash the number of demands it makes on host cities and remove restrictions that prevent a better use of existing stadiums. Those who run the Olympic movement must recognize the games exist to showcase sporting excellence -- not organizers' egos or the spending power of governments anxious to impress the world.

    --Editors: Marc Champion, Mary Duenwald.

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    David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net

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