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Ten arguments against Winter Olympics in the Alps

Apr 10, 2014
Image caption:
© Sylvia Hamberger, Gesellschaft für ökologische Forschung.

1. Illusory promises

The Winter Olympics are meant to be “snow white” and sustainably “green”. But nowadays, as a result of global warming, they tend to be “brown” – and will be even more so in the future. And while every candidature puts all the emphasis on alluring promises, these promises are never kept. Today, rather than being a sporting event intended to bring nations together, the Winter Olympics are big business for the money-making machine that is the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

2. An Olympic flash in the pan

Profitability expectations are always too high. In the short term, the billions invested result in a construction boom at the competition venues. And lots of overnight stays can be generated shortly before, during and shortly after the Games. But experience shows that, in the medium and long term, this large-scale event carries more economic risks than opportunities. Not a single study has been able to prove that the Games have had a lasting positive economic impact on their host region. Experience shows that the Olympic Games tend to be a flash in the pan, not a driving force powering positive economic development. Events of this type go hand in hand with increases in rents and the cost of living.
At the 2011 World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen for example, many business people ended up being disappointed. The negative effects of the Olympic Games, which are on a far greater scale and last far longer, are even more dramatic. In the wake of Vancouver 2010, the public sector will be repaying massive debts for years to come.

3. Too big for the limited space available in the Alps

The Alps are simply not big enough to accommodate the Winter Olympics. At the time a candidature is submitted, the type and number of competitions to be held have not even been stipulated. In recent years the overall number of disciplines, athletes, journalists, volunteers, spectators and IOC support staff, sponsors and guests at events has continued to rise.
The Games have become increasingly bloated and feature more and more individual events, a clear indication that the mountain venues and alpine valleys would be overwhelmed by staging the Games.

4. Unrealistic planning arrangements

In the run-up to the event, the planning arrangements are nearly always portrayed in an unduly favourable light. No detailed documentation is provided. Munich’s candidature for the 2018 Games showed that all the promises made ahead of the Games no longer applied once the bid was fleshed out in more detail. In Garmisch, land owners were pressurised to make their land available. Some were even threatened with compulsory purchase orders. Likewise, claims that 84% of facilities were already in place did not stand up to scrutiny.

5. Too expensive and too risky

Image caption:
© Komitee Olympiakritisches Graubünden

The costs are immense. For St. Moritz’s candidacy for the 2022 Winter Olympics, CHF 2.8 billion was budgeted for organising and staging the Games, with CHF 1.6 billion earmarked for the infrastructure. Profits from TV and sponsorship revenue are pocketed by the tax-exempt IOC, with the Federal Government and the canton having to cover the deficit. Security costs are not even itemised.
It is always after the Games that the true cost of staging the Winter Olympics and the infrastructure costs become known; and they are at least three times higher than planned. During the consultation phase for St. Moritz’s 2022 candidacy alone, the planned costs rose from CHF 36 million to CHF 60 million. Only CHF 250 million was budgeted for security at the Games in Graubünden, which would never have been enough. At Vancouver 2010 the security costs alone amounted to 900 million dollars – five times higher than budgeted.

6. The IOC is not a fair partner

With its Host City Contracts, the IOC deprives communities of any say in the matter. The arbitrary assignment of all risks and obligations to the hosting venues and of all rights to the IOC is increasingly being rejected by the people living in the regions concerned.
When a candidate is awarded the Games, the IOC takes hold of the reins. It unilaterally regulates the terms and conditions for awarding the Winter Olympics with the hosting venues, right down to the smallest detail. The IOC does not issue any binding commitment that it will not make any changes to the decision-making criteria that provided the mainstay for any referendum.

7. Worsening economic woes

If the Olympics are ever touted as a means of boosting tourism in an alpine region, this is a clear indication of a sloppy analysis of the situation or of short-term profit-seeking. From the taxpayer’s point of view, the Olympics would fail any honest cost-benefit calculation on all counts. In winter sports the Olympics is backing the wrong market, unilaterally publicising and prioritising as winter resorts those alpine destinations that are already well known. This mega event is also the wrong standard bearer for existing snow sports in the Alps. What’s more, the Olympics create excess accommodation capacity, fail to generate any recurrent new demand and push land prices even higher.

8. Unsustainable

Many buildings are used only temporarily, with some even being demolished after the Games. Time and time again, loss-making ruins are left behind, scattered about the landscape – despite all the assurances that existing sports facilities will be used wherever possible. Traffic, security and accommodation push alpine valleys to their limits. The Winter Olympics are not sustainable – meagre economic returns in the long term contrast sharply with a high burden of debt for the public sector and their major impact on the environment.



9. Impact on nature and landscape

The Host City Contract, which runs to more than 60 pages, has only eight lines on the subject of sustainability and the environment. In the feasibility studies, specific measures are lacking altogether. However, given the scale of such a massive event attracting more than 100,000 visitors a day and a gigantic building programme worth several billion euros or Swiss francs, an impact on nature and the landscape is inevitable. The energy and space requirements and the facilities needed to make artificial snow are huge. Ten years of full-on building activity increases the environmental impact and the air and noise pollution in a sensitive alpine environment.

10. Climate change raises the stakes

Increasingly mild and changeable winters show that the time for such large-scale snow-based outdoor events is coming to an end. All the ski and snowboard competitions and all the Nordic and biathlon events now have to use artificial snow, with all the infrastructure and environmental impact that entails. So – are Winter Olympics really worth it at this price?



Compiled by Stefan Grass from contributions by

Silva Semadeni, Member of the Swiss National Council (SP): (de)

Jon Pult, President of the Graubünden SP: (de)

Compiled by Axel Doering from contributions by the Nolympia editorial team: Silvia Hamberger and Wolfgang Zängl, Gesellschaft für ökologische Forschung [Society for Ecological Research]; Axel Doering and Andreas Keller, Bund Naturschutz in Bayern [Bavarian Nature Conservation Association] Thomas Pampuch, journalist: