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Mind Games

Martin Hodler is hoping to change Swiss attitudes Keystone

The organisers of the Bern 2010 Winter Olympic bid say they will have to overcome the traditional Swiss mindset if they are to bring the Games to Switzerland.

“We have become world champions in playing things safe and avoiding risk,” reckons bid president Martin Hodler, “and that is something that has to change.”

Following last month’s IOC deadline for formally announcing candidatures, the Bern bidders know they are up against no less than eight rival campaigns. But before taking on the likes of Salzburg and Vancouver, the Bern organisers will clearly have to confront a good deal of scepticism at home.

“The first thing people in Switzerland ask me is always how much the Games will cost, rather than how much we as a country will benefit from hosting the Olympics,” Hodler complains. “Personally, I like to look first at the benefits of a proposal, then see what it will cost and finally consider if it is worth proceeding.”

The next milestone for the Bern 2010 project will come at the end of May when bid dossiers are handed into the IOC for technical evaluation. In the meantime Hodler’s team must secure the support of politicians, big business and even the public at large, who could call for a referendum on the Olympic campaign.

PR campaign

“We will be launching a PR campaign to try to persuade people that the Games will benefit Switzerland, and I think this national debate will be even harder to win than the international competition,” Hodler admits.

“Last time around, Sion’s bid (for the 2006 Winter Olympics) was able to depend on the support of a very charismatic spokesman in the shape of (former sports minister) Adolf Ogi. I’m not Adolf Ogi, so I have to find other ways of persuading people and make sure that I surround myself with the best team.”

As president of the Lake Geneva-based beverage company Infré, Hodler says his concerns about Swiss conservatism extend far beyond the business of staging sports events. He argues that Switzerland also needs to be more adventurous in its approaches to culture, education and the international workplace.

Similarly, he warns that a failed Olympic bid could affect much more than the country’s sporting profile.

Adverse effect

“I think a lack of support at home for the Olympic bid could have an adverse effect on how the Swiss are perceived abroad,” claims Hodler. “I could imagine it influencing people when they consider offering an important position to a Swiss candidate.

“They might begin to think that a typical Swiss is solid and reliable but has absolutely no drive, no imagination and no leadership qualities.”

Two bids

Ironically, given Hodler’s concerns about Switzerland’s lack of ambition, the country is currently attempting to host two major international sports events. As well as the Olympic bid organised by Hodler’s team, the Swiss football association has launched a joint bid with Austria to stage the 2008 European Championships.

Unsurprisingly, Hodler has little time for sceptics who argue that it is counterproductive to organise two such bids at the same time.

“I think it actually works in our favour,” Hodler insists. “It’s a big sign that something is finally happening in Switzerland and that may help influence the people who decide on the bids.

“From an organisational point of view I can’t see any problems,” he adds. “One event is in winter, the other in summer. One is in 2008, the other in 2010. As for the financial argument, we’ve seen recently that these events, if they’re done properly, can be profitable. So why shouldn’t it be possible for Switzerland to stage such events?”

The IOC will give their own initial thoughts on that question on August 31 when the evaluation committee publishes its shortlist of viable Olympic sites.

If the Swiss bid is one of those receiving approval, Hodler’s team will have until January 2003 to finalise their dossier. The IOC will then hold its final vote in Prague on July 2.

by Mark Ledsom

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