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Salzburg’s candidacies for the Winter Olympics

Apr 10, 2014
Image caption:
© Richy / pixelio

The 2006 candidacy

On the initiative of the Salzburg Chamber of Commerce and pressurised by the main mountain railway and cable car companies, the Federal Province of Salzburg financed a feasibility study for a 2006 candidacy. But at the pre-selection stage the Austrian Olympic Committee opted in favour of Klagenfurt, whose candidacy subsequently failed even to make the final phase with the IOC; the Games went to Turin.

The 2010 candidacy

By the time of Salzburg’s candidacy for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the notion of environmental protection was the focal point among critics of the Olympics. On the initiative of the Naturschutzbund, the ARGE ÖKO OLYMPIA 2010 Working Group was established in Salzburg, featuring prominent members. By signing an agreement with the candidates and the provincial government, the Working Group was seeking to prevent “the destruction of nature and an adverse effect on the population”. Although there were several rounds of negotiations, no agreement was signed. The Working Group even succeeded in obtaining a meeting with members of the IOC Evaluation Commission, who were staying in Salzburg for assessment purposes, and pointed out at this meeting that the candidates were not willing to issue a written – i.e. enforceable – guarantee with regard to environmental protection.
To assuage the critics shortly before the Olympic City was to be selected, the Mayor of Salzburg – as the person responsible for the candidature – wrote to the Working Group to say that everything had been sorted out. Since the 2010 Games were ultimately awarded to Vancouver, the Mayor was never compelled to furnish evidence that this was indeed the case.

The 2014 candidacy

A tragedy in several acts

Act One: Getting the citizens on board
Under massive pressure from mountain railway and cable car companies and mayors in the Pongau District, hesitant attempts were embarked upon to make a renewed candidacy for 2014 palatable to the citizenry. In an interview for the Salzburger Nachrichten [daily newspaper], the future managing director of a 2014 candidature organisation expressed the view that the costs involved in the candidacy would now be lower since so much was already in place – and in any case staging the Games would bring in revenues of 1.6 billion euros, resulting in a 500 million euro surplus.
The 2010 candidature had made clear that the population was worried less about any potential impact on the environment; rather, that they were ill-disposed towards the potential financial burden on taxpayers. Naturally, that became the general thrust of those opposed to the Olympics, particularly since the candidature organisation had provided the Landtag [regional parliament] and the municipal council with figures that were completely false.

Act Two: The citizens’ initiative in the candidate city of Salzburg
A “wildcat” municipal councillor who had been expelled from the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) on grounds of insubordination joined forces with a small team and within a short time gathered the 2,000 or more signatures necessary to hold a citizens’ initiative in the city of Salzburg.
While the opponents were operating with no funding whatsoever, the advocates even roped in the Federal President, with a mail shot to every household; the Head of the Provincial Government (Premier) and the Mayor were also out and about at the weekly market, canvassing and garnering votes. The result was all the more disappointing for those in favour of the Olympics: a majority of 60.53% of those entitled to vote in the City of Salzburg voted against the Olympic Games.
However, since according to municipal law, this was only a citizens’ consultation, the politicians were not bound to abide by the results – and it was therefore possible to continue with the candidacy.

Act Three: Panic! Hundreds of millions of euros of projected revenue have disappeared.
For months, critics had been repeatedly pointing out that the figures for TV revenue peddled by the IOC were completely made up. Therefore planned expenditure had to be cut by hundreds of millions of euros.
As a result there was all sorts of trickery and lying concerning expenditure, with impossible possibilities being portrayed as realistic and non-existent sports facilities depicted as fully functional. Despite all this blatant trickery the budget was approved – after all, the subsidy for taxpayers was “only” going to be 180 million euros.

Act Four – the happy ending
In the end, Putin the grand wizard came to Salzburg’s rescue by taking the Games to Russia at a cost of around 50 billion dollars, as we now know.
In 2014, seven years after the decision went against Salzburg, one wonders what sort of impact Salzburg’s successful candidacy would have had. As it was, after a financial scandal in 2012, the federal province narrowly avoided a total financial collapse even without the Olympics and was forced to radically slash its budget. For the Olympics it would have had to raise immeasurably more financial resources.

Epilogue – it’s not over yet
On its website, the Province of Salzburg has over 77 pages of reports on the work carried out by a committee of enquiry in connection with the 2014 candidature for the Olympics. At the time a support association had been founded in Vienna which eventually had to be funded from Salzburg’s Olympics budget itself. The Secretary General of the Austrian Olympic Committee was ultimately sentenced to several years’ imprisonment. Salzburg may well have been cured of the Olympic Games for some time to come.

About the author:

“Willi Rehberg trained and qualified in business and commercial studies. In his most recent position he was Managing Director of an environmental engineering company and, for many years, Treasurer of the Salzburg Section of the Alpine Club. He gained his knowledge of the Olympics during Salzburg’s candidatures for the Winter Olympics in 2006, 2010 and 2014 and supported the Munich 2018 and 2022 NOLYMPIA network with numerous lectures at venues in Bavaria that were earmarked for the Olympics. In Salzburg he was one of the initiators of the ARGE-ÖKO OLYMPIA 2010 Working Group and was instrumental in bringing about a citizens’ consultation against Salzburg’s 2014 candidacy.”
Contact: [email protected]