Winter Olympics a mixed blessing, critics say

The executives of Swiss Olympic think Davos-St Moritz is the right horse to bet on Keystone

Environmental groups say the potential bid by the alpine resorts of Davos and St Moritz to host the 2022 Winter Olympics will not live up to “green” promises.

This content was published on August 18, 2011 - 15:37
Terence MacNamee in Chur,

The executive council of the Swiss Olympic committee gave its official backing to Davos-St Moritz last week, over proposals from Geneva, Vaud and Valais.

The bid by the ski resorts in the eastern canton of Graubünden won out on the basis of “small is beautiful”. The idea is that these will be “white games” right in the snow, not a in large city like Vancouver, which hosted the last winter games in 2010. But they are also to be “green games” that spare the environment.

“We are very happy and pleased. We have won an important round,” said Tarzisius Caviezel, member of the federal parliament and chairman of the bid committee, speaking in the local press.

However, environmental organisations in Graubünden say that “green games” in the Alps are nothing but a pipe-dream. They point to the lessons learned from recent games, where there was negative environmental impact and little economic spin-off for the hosts.  

“From our experience of previous debates and votes, we know that popular opposition is greater than is usually let on in this tourist canton,” Stefan Grass, chair of a committee of environmental groups, told

Grass said this was important since the canton and the two municipalities of Davos and St Moritz will have to go to the people to get their approval for financing of the games next year.

“We are expecting 60 per cent will vote against. Davos and St Moritz may get approval for their local contributions. But for us the most important thing is that most people here will be against it. For the IOC [International Olympic Committee], the degree of enthusiasm on the ground is a criterion for awarding the games.”

Popular vote

Grass added that his committee will be taking a critical look at the bid dossier. He expects to find that the “green” parts of the proposal are not binding on the IOC and are not guaranteed to be part of a final agreement to hold the international sporting event.

Outlining the environmentalists’ strategy to fight the Olympic bid, he said: “we will campaign against the canton’s budget proposal in the coming popular vote. We hope it will be turned down, but even a 55 per cent vote in favour would be good for the environment, because the IOC will then pull out.

“We will accept whatever the people say. If the bid goes forward, we will just follow the process with a view to damage limitation. We will scrutinize the award of building permits outside the existing built-up areas in terms of environmental law. We may have a long road ahead of us.”

Asked if “green games” would be feasible anywhere in the Alps, he said no, just as there were no green automobiles. “‘White games’ are not ‘green games’. These games always eat up the natural landscape as well as resources. And there are always ‘ruins’ and debt left behind. Just look at Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010.”

Innovative approaches

The promoters still hope to convince people of their environmental sensitivity.

“We really want to have winter Olympics appropriate to the alpine region. It’s a big challenge, of course, and it calls for innovative approaches,” Gaudenz Domenig, project leader and spokesman of the working group on Graubünden’s Olympic bid told 

“We see our bid as a real alternative. Unlike just about all other bids that might be expected, we have no major urban centre to act as a host city. There is of course no guarantee that this kind of an alternative bid will be successful. But if we don’t try to offer alternatives, we will just lose out.”

“We are not being naive either,” Domenig added. “We know that Olympic games are a big proposition, but in our view a living alpine region is capable of staging them in a form that suits the alpine environment.”

It is unclear whether the people of Graubünden will support the bid, and it is worth noting that they rejected a similar proposal in 1980.

Hurdles yet to clear

Swiss Olympic’s approval of the Davos-St Moritz bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics is just the first step in a long process.

The “sports parliament” of Swiss Olympic consisting of delegates from the 83 member organisations, the Swiss IOC members and three to five representatives of Swiss athletes will meet in April 2012 to vote on the bid.

If the vote is favourable, the Graubünden government will have to put the proposed budget for the games to a popular vote later in the year. Davos and St Moritz will have to get the approval of their local voters for the amounts they propose to spend.

The approval of the federal parliament in Bern will also be required.

The bid, if it clears all these hurdles, will go to the IOC in 2013 for preliminary approval.

The final decision of the full 100-member IOC on a venue for the 2022 Winter Games will be made in June 2015.

(Source: Engadiner Post newspaper)

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Winter sports in Davos and St Moritz

Graubünden is known for its unspoilt nature – but also for great skiing. Davos (with Klosters) in the north of the canton and St Moritz in the south are of course the jewels in the crown. They are wealthy towns with a worldwide reputation.  

St Moritz has a long history of winter sport. People there say that modern winter sports were founded by adventure-seeking Englishmen who came to St Moritz in the late 19th century. They skied, skated on ice, curled, and raced through the snow in toboggans and bobsleighs. These sports were so popular they led to organized competitions.

St Moritz has hosted the winter games twice: in 1928, four years after the first Winter Olympics held in Chamonix, France, and again, after the hiatus of the Second World War, in 1948.

Davos and the neighbouring village of Klosters are famous as a skiing area. Davos is also the home of a popular and successful ice hockey team, EHC Davos, whose president is politician and Games promoter Tarzisius Caviezel. Davos is perhaps best known in the world today as the host city of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, which brings together government and business leaders from around the world.

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