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Battle over Bern Olympic bid heats up

Salt Lake City staged extravagant ceremonies during the Games Keystone Archive

Promoters of Bern's bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics have begun their campaign to earn public approval.

This content was published on August 17, 2002 - 17:27

But ahead of a vote on the issue, opponents say the Swiss capital cannot compete with the likes of Vancouver, which is also in the running.

Since its launch, the Bern bid to host the 2010 games has been viewed with scepticism, with many critics arguing that the canton has neither the facilities nor the money required for one of the world's largest sporting events.

It also came to light that the campaign was already SFr500,000 in debt, with 11 months of campaigning still to go.

A cross-party committee of opponents of the bid has said there is no financial basis to organise the event and dismissed arguments by supporters that the Olympics would give a boost to the economy.

But this week, the Bern committee was upbeat about the campaign, saying that Switzerland needed to reassert its importance as a centre for winter sports. It also said several private and corporate sponsors had come forward in the past few days, whose donations were enough to cancel the debt.

The Games would be held in canton Bern and in Montreux, canton Vaud, although the name of the French-speaking city had to be dropped from the official campaign because of IOC regulations.

Next hurdle

The next hurdle ahead is August 28, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will draw up a shortlist of the six bidders: Vancouver (Canada), Salzburg (Austria), Jaca (Spain), Kangwon (South Korea), Sarajevo (Bosnia) and Harbin in northeastern China.

If selected, the Bern committee will need to focus on winning the support of the people of canton Bern, who will vote in the autumn on whether or not to approve budget of SFr22.5 million for the games.

The funding, which will only be needed if Bern is chosen, will come directly from the canton's coffers.

"It's a great chance for the canton, which is already financially hard up," the committee director general, Dres von Weissenfluh, told swissinfo. "It'll be important for tourism and investment and it'll also signal the importance of Switzerland as a centre for winter sports."

Switzerland was the first country to host the Winter Olympics in St Moritz in 1948, and it was high time, von Weissenfluh added, for the Games to "come home."

Small scale

The Bern committee says it has no aspirations to emulate the scale and extravagance of the Salt Lake City games. Instead, it says the event should focus on sports, not infrastructure.

It plans to use mostly existing facilities in the canton and around the French-speaking town of Montreux, with the exception of building some new ice rinks. Any new facilities will be environmentally friendly and reusable after the games are over.

"The IOC has said that it's keen to reduce the size of the Games, and if that's the case, Bern stands a good chance," von Weissenfluh explains. "But if they want them to get bigger and bigger, then we won't win - but we won't change our plan."

Italian obstacle

Another hurdle in the way of the Bern bid is that the 2006 Winter Olympics will be held in the northern Italian city of Turin, a mere three hour drive from Bern. The IOC may deem the two locations to be too close to one another to run in succession.

"I don't think this will disadvantage us too much," Martin Hodler, the Bern committee chairman, told swissinfo. "The IOC has stressed that around two-thirds of the Winter Games should be held in Europe, which is still the heart of most winter sports."

Bribery

After the bribery scandal at the Salt Lake City games, the Bern committee is aware that corruption has previously also played a part in the selection process.

"Sport reflects society, so you can't avoid these issues," Hodler says. "But since the scandal at Salt Lake City, there's definitely been a change within the IOC, which knows that this has to change so as not to discredit the Games."

By Vanessa Mock

Key facts

Six other bidders, including Vancouver and Salzburg.
IOC to select finalists on August 28.
Canton Bern to vote in autumn on SFr22.5 million budget for the Games.

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