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Democracy and the Olympics don’t mix.
Colorado voters loudly sent that message to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) more than 40 years ago when voters rejected public financing for the 1976 Denver Winter Olympics, which had already been awarded. Colorado remains the only place to ever give back the Games.
Last week, Oslo, Norway, was the latest potential host for the 2022 Winter Olympics to drop out of what’s become a comically botched bidding process and is now down to just two authoritarian regimes in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing, China. Don’t expect public-financing votes there.
Similarly, ordinary Russians had very little say in Vladimir Putin’s $51 billion Winter Olympic extravaganza in Sochi. And now that price tag may be scaring off more bidders than a Russian tank column rolling into Crimea soon after the Games.
But that too may be a valuable lesson corrupt IOC members will no doubt ignore. Award the Games to a regional bully and they may get so high on Olympic-torch fumes that they invade neighbors and wink and nod at the shooting down of commercial airliners.
In 2012, Colorado officials, including the governor and the mayor of Denver, were seriously interested in hosting the 2022 Games. Thank goodness the U.S. Olympic Committee stalled that process while it figured out TV revenues and whether to go after the Summer or Winter Olympics. How about neither?
The soonest Colorado could once again jump into the mix for the Winter Games would be a bid for 2026, but many politicians, ski industry officials and conservationists would like to see a complete rethinking of the Games in the wake of the Sochi debacle.
All of my reasons for not attending Sochi after working at the last three Winter Games (Salt Lake City, Torino and Vancouver) panned out except for security concerns, which were thankfully controlled by an overwhelming and unobtrusive (unless you were protesting) police presence. Foreign guests beware there now as that apparatus has moved on to Ukraine.
Depending on where you divide Europe and Asia, Sochi is either in far southeastern Europe or far southwestern Asia, which means that there will be an unprecedented three straight Winter Games in Asia — Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018, and China or Kazakhstan in 2022.
My vote is for Almaty, if for no other reason than to see if comedian Sasha Baron Cohen carries the torch dressed as Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev. Plus, I think the Kazakhs will be a lot less lavish than Beijing, and the whole spectacle needs to be seriously dialed back.
Beijing already hosted the Summer Games in 2008 (no place has ever hosted both summer and winter); it’s only 669 miles from Pyeongchang; only has a handful of icy “skiing” hills some 120 miles away; and by then may be embroiled in the biggest pro-Democracy protests of all time (actually, that might be a plus for Beijing). It’s doubtful Kazakhstan, which has had the same autocratic leader since the fall of the Soviet Union, will see any such popular unrest by then.
I get that the IOC wants to spread winter sports around the globe, especially if corrupt dictators are waiting with piles of public cash (North Korea 2026, anyone?), but they’re increasingly alienating the developed world – where much of the best winter-sports infrastructure resides – by focusing so much on fringe markets.
Granted, we’re talking fringe markets with huge upside for the industry. Back before the global recession hit, I did a story on Colorado ski executives traveling the globe to help develop resorts in Russia, India and China. Seems some of the world’s highest mountains are seriously underserved in terms of snow-sports infrastructure.
But a lot of that has to do with how remote and politically unstable these places are. Only one of the three resorts I wrote about, Rosa Khutor near Sochi, reached its full potential, and that was due solely to the 2014 Games and the willingness of the Putin kleptocracy to infuse insane amounts of cash into the area – money far better spent on infrastructure elsewhere in Russia.
The other two — Himalayan Ski Village in northern India (just 760 miles straight south of Almaty but in the towering Himalayas), and PingTian Resorts in far western China (nearly 2,000 miles and a five-hour flight from Beijing) – have stalled for a variety of reasons.
Not the least of which, I suspect, is the fact that both ski areas would be in the middle of regions wracked by insurgencies pitting predominantly Muslim minorities against Hindu and Buddhist majorities. Still, if the idea is to develop winter-sports infrastructure where growing middle-class populations actually will want to ski long-term, it makes more sense to host the Games there.
The problem is that bloated IOC corporate toadies — the same ones who honed their craft at the wildly corrupt Salt Lake City Games 12 years ago — have fully bought into the notion of holding Winter Olympics in improbable coastal areas or far from real mountains, because they want the events near major cities where they can hold court in four- and five-star hotels.
Which is why the 2022 Games will likely go to Beijing, and 2026 will be inside a snow dome in Doha, Qatar.
Editor’s note: Next up I’ll blog about what mountain communities with real ski slopes in actual mountainous areas like Colorado should do about the horribly misguided path the Winter Olympics have taken in a warming and increasingly corrupt world.