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Swiss weigh up Olympic future

The Swiss team arrive at the opening ceremony of the Turin Winter Olympics 2006 Keystone

Switzerland's chances of hosting future Winter Olympics may have been dented by the decision to award the 2014 Games to the big-spending Russian resort of Sochi.

That at least is the opinion of Swiss Olympic president Jörg Schild, whose organisation is keen to bid for the Games so long as it feels small nations still have a chance.

Swiss Olympic’s executive committee said on Thursday it would look into the feasibility of bidding for the 2018 or 2022 Games. But Schild says they will pay careful attention to Sochi’s victory at the expense of a more modest bid by the Austrian city of Salzburg.

“The study is really just about seeing whether the whole thing makes sense or not. After this week’s decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in favour of Sochi, I am not so sure if it does.” Schild told swissinfo on Friday.

“Sochi has practically no sports facilities in place so far, so we have to see whether it is now enough to have a powerful head of state and some major industrialists backing your bid or whether sporting matters still play a role. If the first case is true, we can forget about Switzerland staging the Olympics.”

Boasting the biggest budget of the three cities bidding for the 2014 Games, Sochi was considered to have impressed IOC members particularly with the personal involvement of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who travelled to Guatemala to address personally the IOC ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

Austria’s bid, based around the host city of Salzburg, crashed out in the first round of voting despite already having eight of its 11 proposed venues in place. Like Switzerland, Austria boasts a rich tradition of staging winter sports events and had promised to deliver a cosy, intimate Games in keeping with earlier Olympics.

Olympic mindset

Schild remains optimistic however that money was not the only issue at stake in Guatemala.

“I cannot imagine that it was only about politics and economic power. I say that because I know a fair few of the IOC members and I do not believe that is a big part of the Olympic mindset,” he told swissinfo.

“It should not be forgotten that there were other factors weighing against the Salzburg bid including the long-running doping problems [following a scandal involving Austrian athletes at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin] and the perceived lack of public support within Salzburg itself.”

Schild’s opinion is echoed by Olympic movement expert Ed Hula, whose Around the Rings website provides daily coverage of the IOC and its sporting federations.

“I think there were a variety of things behind the IOC decision, not just that Sochi spent more money. I think Sochi had a better team and they had a good story to tell – which doesn’t cost anything,” Hula told swissinfo from Guatemala.

“Besides, you won’t always have big nations bidding for the Winter Olympics. The United States isn’t bidding for 2018 because it’s going for the 2016 Summer Games. China might bid, but it has very little Winter Games experience and is already staging the 2008 Summer Olympics. So sooner or later the smaller nations like Austria and Switzerland will have to host it again.”

Public support

Switzerland will likely have to demonstrate stronger public support than Salzburg if it is to ever host the Games. Unfortunately that might not be easy.

The Swiss capital Bern’s bid to stage the 2010 Games died an early death after the canton’s voters rejected the plan in a 2002 referendum. A private initiative for a 2014 bid based around Zurich also failed to find sufficient backing.

Even Switzerland’s successful bid to stage next year’s European football championships with Austria has been hampered by reports of antipathy or ambivalence in the local population. Last month a vote in Bern on whether to provide key funding for the tournament was narrowly approved by 52 per cent of voters.

“I think Euro 2008 could actually help our chances of staging the Olympics though,” Schild said. “There is this scepticism about big events, but my hope is that the football championships will help create an enthusiasm that maybe wasn’t there previously.”

He added: “What we have learnt is that you need that enthusiasm from the people along with full support from the federal and cantonal governments.”

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom

Switzerland most recently hosted the Winter Olympics in 1948. It also organised the second Winter Games in 1928. St Moritz was the setting on both occasions.

Sion was the most recent Swiss city to mount a full campaign to host the Winter Olympics but it lost out in the bid for the 2006 Games to Turin. Sion also bid unsuccessfully for the 2002 and 1976 Games.

Bern was shortlisted as a candidate for the 2010 Games but its bid ended when local residents rejected the plans in a referendum. A private Zurich-based group attempted another bid for the 2014 Olympics but failed to secure backing from the national Olympic committee.

Swiss Olympic plans to discuss the idea of a future bid with its four IOC members (Sepp Blatter, Denis Oswald, René Fasel and Gian-Franco Kasper) all of whom took part in the 2014 vote. If they are in favour, Swiss Olympic will ask its sports parliament to approve a sporting concept for the bid by late autumn 2008.

IOC votes for 2014 Winter Olympics. First round: Pyeongchang 36, Sochi 34, Salzburg 25. Second round: Sochi 51, Pyeongchang 47.
Games budgets/related investments: Pyeongchang $1.257 billion/$7.1 billion, Sochi $1.517 billion/$8.8 billion, Salzburg $965 million/$2.1 billion.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR