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The shreds of Turin

Nov 16, 2010 / Francesco Pastorelli
Mountain regions are footing the bill for the Winter Olympics - the Winter Olympics bring fame and glory and an economic revival to the regions. For a fortnight. Leaving behind an oversized infrastructure, debts and empty beds. That, in a nutshell, is Turin four years after the 20th Olympic Winter Games.
Image caption:
Turin Winter Olympics © Francesco Pastorelli
In February 2006 the eyes of the world were on Turin - the capital of Italy's Piedmont region was hosting the XX Olympic Winter Games. However, most of the events were actually held in small mountain resorts a fair distance from Turin.

The Winter Olympics were meant to allow outlying regions to completely restructure their tourism activities. The existing system, based on second homes and weekend holidaymakers, had proved unprofitable. Hotel beds would be created, and the major event would contribute towards establishing a brand of quality tourism less seasonal in character. It was stressed that even neighbouring mountain communities not directly involved in the Games would benefit in the long term. Today, four years later, disillusionment is widespread in the valleys around Turin. At first sight, not much has changed: long traffic jams at weekends, Olympic villages converted into second homes, and the usual boom in tourism towards the end of the year. The rest of the year the local inhabitants in the mountains are left alone with their "Olympic cathedrals" and the financial knock-on effects.

So, debt or demolition?
When people talk of a large-scale sporting event, with all its associated activities before, during and afterwards, a distinction needs to be made between what happens in a large city like Turin and what happens in the surrounding mountain areas. A large city is far more likely to be able to sustain a major sporting event than a small locality. Many of the sports facilities built specifically for the Winter Olympics illustrate this quite clearly. Once the Games are over, the facilities built for competitive ice sports in Turin can be re-used, and operated without a loss, for other sporting fixtures or for music and cultural events because they are located in a major city with a large catchment area.
That is certainly not the case for sports venues built in mountain resorts. Ski jumping and bobsleigh are sports that have no tradition in Italy or in the western Alps in particular, and they are practised by only a very few athletes. So the facilities built specifically for these sports are either hardly ever used or have been left to decay. The huge running costs are a heavy burden on the mountain communities in whose area they are located. And since these municipalities are unable to raise the funds needed to maintain the facilities, the threat of demolition looms. This is the far less glamorous side of the Winter Olympics.

Squandering millions
Sports facilities represent infrastructure that has cost a great deal of money and will continue to do so. The ski jumps alone cost 35 million euros. The bob run comes in at more than 60 million. Their upkeep devours 1.6 and 2.2 million euros a year respectively. And that does not include the consequential costs resulting from their impact on the environment.
Likewise, operating the ice stadiums in Torre Pellice and Pinerolo - two towns at the entrance of the Susa and Chisone valleys - has been anything but profitable since the Olympic Games. Not to mention the biathlon shooting range. It cost 25 million euros, but now hibernates away under a thick layer of snow. It has also been a long time since any official competitive events were held on the cross-country ski run (20 million euros); it now functions as a simple cross-country track for tourists. Admittedly, the valleys which, together with the city of Turin, provided some of the venues for the Games, have benefited from the upgraded road network. But some of these measures had been urgently needed anyway. Overall, there has been no improvement in the public transport services on offer in the valleys. The villages in the Susa and Chisone valleys are just as difficult to access by public transport as they ever were - even though the Games fortnight did demonstrate that a public transport system can work efficiently, even in the mountains. But as we know, at these major events, everything works perfectly while the world is watching. Once the final curtain falls and the TV cameras are switched off, once the athletes and the journalists have left, everything goes back to the way it was. And no-one speaks of the hundreds of millions of euros that have been squandered, and the shortcomings and irregularities the region had to put up with for years on end during all the construction work.

from: AlpsInsight No. 94