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Swiss dream again of hosting Winter Olympics

On Wednesday at a meeting, Sport Minister Ueli Maurer (second from left) said he was favourable to a Swiss Winter Olympics Keystone

Switzerland, home of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is once again thinking of holding a Winter Olympics – something it hasn’t done in more than 60 years.

It has two Games to its name, in 1928 and 1948, as well as several bid rejections. Officials, who are discussing the issue on Friday, are hoping the latest plans – for 2022 at the earliest – will this time strike lucky.

Both times the Winter Olympics were held in the luxury resort of St Moritz. But bids by Valais in 1976, 2002 and 2006 failed. Anger and disappointment were particularly high when the 2006 games went to Turin in neighbouring Italy.

Swiss Olympic, the umbrella association of Swiss sport organisations, has now decided it is time to revive the dream. The general assembly met on Friday and decided by 381 votes to two abstentions to “mandate the executive council to work towards presenting an eventual candidacy”.

Jörg Schild, the president of Swiss Olympic, told before the vote that it was the end of the first phase.

“If there is a yes for preparing a bid then we will prepare a concrete project which would be put to vote at the end of 2011,” he said.

Switzerland must put its name forward, he believes. “We can’t keep wanting to win medals but always let others organise the Games.”

In the snow

The Games have been increasing in size until now, Schild says. “We could offer the IOC to change the situation, and above all, to go back to having a Games in the snow and not two hours away from the pistes like in Turin or Vancouver.”

This is the main argument from canton Graubünden, where the authorities have already indicated their support.

Although he doesn’t have an official mandate, the parliamentarian Tarzisius Caviezel, who is the head of the Davos hockey club, is the principal architect of the Graubünden project. “I have been involved since seeing the situation in Vancouver,” he said.

Schild recalls that it was at those very games that Sport Minister Ueli Maurer first mooted the possibility of Switzerland hosting a Winter Olympics.

Maurer was more specific on Wednesday, saying that it was time to tackle a major project despite foreseeable transport and environmental concerns.

Caviezel shares Schild’s conviction that it is time to go back to the Games’ roots. He believes that Davos and St Moritz, who would put in a joint bid, are “predestined” to hold the Games.

“But it also has to be a bid than concerns the whole of Switzerland, supported by the economy, the population, the athletes and the politicians,” he added.

Unity and criticism

Swiss Olympic is also keen to stress that regions should not be competing against each other and that any bid should be a project for the entire country, with the support of the government.

But there have already been dissenting voices about the Winter Olympics. Within Graubünden an alliance of environmental organisations said the canton’s project was aggressive on the countryside, didn’t fulfil economic expectations and “all this for 17 days of events”.

For his part, Hansruedi Müller, head of Bern University’s Research Institute for Leisure and Tourism, said that these days the Games needed major infrastructure and that it would be better to concentrate straightaway on a single project.

Infrastructure has to be thought about now, he said. For example, a new railway between St Moritz and Davos would need seven years. Furthermore, the facilities should be sustainable and usable after the Games have finished, he said.

Geneva’s bid

Geneva, which is preparing a project jointly with Vaud and Valais, is also eagerly awaiting Friday’s decision.

“We have already carried out a feasibility study for a 2018 bid, which we are in the process of updating,” said Michael Kleiner, Deputy Secretary General for Sport at the canton.

“If the decision is to go towards a bid, then we will have a year to convince them,” he added. Among Geneva’s strong points, are, says Kleiner, its closeness to skiing and skating competition areas, such as Crans-Montana.

In addition, it is well placed to see how Annecy – just across the border in France – is preparing its bid for 2018, for which Geneva would provide hotel infrastructure and an airport.

The Lausanne-based IOC is due to take its decision on 2018 in July next year. “If Annecy or Munich are chosen, rather than the south Korean Pyeongchang, we won’t bid for 2022, but at the earliest for 2026,” Schild said.

There is also interest from central Switzerland, which is at the moment personified by the ubiquitous financier-promoter Samih Sawiris, who is developing Andermatt in canton Uri. He has said he would finance a feasibility study for the town.

Officials recognise that there is still not full popular support for a Swiss Winter Olympics. But Kleiner says the Euro 2008 football championships, jointly organised with Austria, has left its mark.

“The Euro 08 showed that not only could Switzerland organise a big event, but that it did it rather well.”

The first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France, 28 years after the classic Olympic Games were revived and held in Athens.

Switzerland, a country of winter sports, held the Winter Olympics in 1928 and 1948, both times in St Moritz.

Since then several bids have failed. Zurich and Bern were interested in the 1976 Games, but Swiss voters rejected the funding. They also rejected Davos, St Moritz and Lausanne for 1996, as well as Bern/Montreux for 2010.

Zurich and Davos decided not to go for 2014, as did Geneva for 2018, preferring instead to support Annecy.

The last failed bid in front of the IOC caused great upset. On June 19, 1999, Turin triumphed by 53 votes to 36, beating Sion which was on its third attempt.

“For Switzerland, organising an Olympic Games has almost become a matter of urgency,” said Sport Minister Ueli Maurer earlier this week. “It is time to tackle a major project. We have become a bit lazy,” he added.

Maurer foresees transport and environmental concerns but says they are not insurmountable.

“If Switzerland, with its standards, can’t organise an Olympic Games, who can?” added the minister.

(Adapted from French by Isobel Leybold-Johnson)

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR