An unlikely mix of top athletes, film stars and the cream of the international jet set have descended on the Swiss ski resort of St Moritz for the Alpine World Ski Championships.This content was published on February 1, 2003 - 13:05
Yet despite being the largest sporting event ever hosted by Switzerland, organisers have been at pains not to lower the tone of the exclusive mountain hideaway.
A mere 10,000 people per race will be privileged enough to stand behind the hoardings to catch a glimpse of the world's top skiers as they shoot down the slopes - a paltry number for such a major event.
"The location of St Moritz means that it wouldn't be possible to accommodate more spectators," says Jean-Loup Chappelet, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Public Administration (IDHEAP).
He adds that it may well be the last time that such a small resort is chosen for such a large-scale event, with the emphasis shifting to bigger resorts such as Turin, picked to host the 2006 Winter Olympics.
However, the resort's logistical constraints allow the town to avoid the evils of mass tourism and maintain its image as an upmarket idyll, teeming with gleaming boutiques nestling among the country's top hotels.
"It's interesting that it should be the turn of St Moritz to host these games... where it's more a question of image than economics," says Chappelet.
Organisers have pumped mountains of cash into the event, in a bid to cement St Moritz's reputation as a world-class resort - or as the slogan goes: "Top of the World" for winter sports.
Millions have been spent on preparing the slopes and ski infrastructure alone, allowing smoother access to the starting line, Piz Nair.
The Swiss financial magazine, "Bilan", estimates the total cost of the event at over SFr1 billion, when indirect costs such as renovation of hotels and catering facilities are taken into account.
At SFr80 million, the official budget for the St Moritz championships far outstrips that of other sporting events in Switzerland planned for 2003.
The championships have provided the resort in the Engadine with the perfect opportunity to flaunt its riches before the eyes of the world and to use the fierce media scrutiny to its advantage, says Chappelet.
"St Moritz wants and needs to show that its major ski resort - a Mecca for sports," he says.
Some 18 television stations will broadcast 450 hours of programming over the course of the event, with a staggering 300 million viewers expected to watch the competition.
Chappelet believes the event is also a major boost for Switzerland, which last hosted a major sporting event in 1974 when the ski championships were held in Crans Montana.
swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux (translation: Vanessa Mock)
Some 400 athletes are competing in ten races during two weeks.
The event's official budget is SFr80 million, with St Moritz and other regional authorities paying almost half the amount.
The International Ski Federation is contributing SFr30 million, Swiss Olympic SFr1.3 million and other sponsors SFr3 million.
Some 10,000 spectators for each event are expected to generate SFr7 million in revenues.
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