Do Oslo's Olympic cold feet signal a shift in international sport?

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Story highlights

  • Oslo pulls out of bidding for 2022 Winter Olympics
  • Move could signal a loss of appetite for democratic countries to hold gala sporting events
  • Cost of hosting major events has skyrocketed
  • The last Olympics, held in Sochi, cost Russia $50 billion in hosting and infrastructure
The procedure, now, is commonplace. A glitzy stage, manned by executives in suits, an envelope dramatically opened. Then, cheers from representatives of the successful bid.
Despite these regular, euphoric scenes not every country seems to have aspirations to host a major sporting event. Earlier this month, Norway withdrew its bid for Oslo to host the 2022 edition of the Winter Olympics, following Stockholm, Krakow and Lviv in Ukraine in dropping out of the process to host the tournament.
Munich, which was also considering a bid, decided not to pursue it, following a referendum.
"The vote is not a signal against the sport, but against the non-transparency and the greed for profit of the IOC (International Olympic Committee)," said Ludwig Hartmann, an anti-Olympic bid campaigner and Green Party lawmaker in the Bavarian state legislature.
Despite several attempts, the IOC did not respond to requests for comments from CNN.
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The Polish bid and a joint Davos/St. Moritz attempt also fell apart when ordinary voters were given a say.
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The Oslo decision was taken for both financial and political reasons, the Norwegian Olympic Committee Secretary General, Inge Andersen told CNN.
Costly endeavor
It cost an estimated $50 billion to host the last Winter Games, held in Sochi, Russia.
A so-called list of IOC "demands" for delegations -- which included first class treatment such as exclusive VIP floor in an Oslo hotel, priority traffic lanes and Samsung phones for IOC delegates, as well as a red-carpet arrival ceremony for Committee chief Thomas Bach -- was outlined in a technical manual reportedly distributed to bid cities. Oslo's copy was released and reported in Norwegian media.
In response to the reports, the IOC issued a statement saying, "The IOC pays for, and always has paid for, its own accommodation. The so-called 'Olympic lanes' are not demanded of every city but only where appropriate...Olympic Lanes, where appropriate, are there to ensure the Olympic Games can take place in a busy or congested city and competition can run on time so that the event can be brought to a worldwide audience."
The statement goes on to say, "The so-called 'demands' in the technical manuals are no such thing. The language is very clear that these are merely suggestions and advice based on the experience gained from previous organisers of the Games."
However, many ordinary Norwegians did not feel that way.
"The public opinion was that the IOC 'suggestions' were more requirements," said Andersen, "and reflected a perceived opinion of the IOC as a somewhat distanced, undemocratic organization with unreasonable, non-understandable recommendations."
The IOC said in a separate statement that it was a missed opportunity and Norway would have benefited from $880 million investment from the organization.
Oslo's backing out leaves just two cities in the running; Almaty in Kazakhstan and the Chinese capital Beijing, which hosted the Summer Games in 2008.
Andersen added that the lack of interest in hosting the 2022 Games might prompt the Committee to enact some changes to the bidding process.
"We believe this also gives a signal to the IOC regarding necessary changes, among them to strengthen (the) transparency of the processes."
Is allure fading?
Whether the reason is political, financial or a mix of both, the sheen of hosting a major sporting event is starting to wear off for some nations.
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With political strife dogging the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and "white elephant" stadiums dotting South Africa following its hosting of the 2010 World Cup, some Western-style democracies appear to be shying away from hosting the world's biggest sporting jamborees.
"The worst option would be that we firmly (decide) on a city... (and then) the project will not be supported," Alfons Hormann, president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) said in relation to a possible German 2024 Summer Games bid, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
He said that a repeat of the lack of public support for Munich's abandoned 2022 Winter Olympics bid "must not happen to us."
New horizons
While western-style democracies appear to be increasingly listening to their voters and paying more attention to the bidding and hosting costs as a factor, there are still a large number of countries which can see the benefits to hosting tournaments, and the advantages that can be wrought from a little feel-good PR as the world's gaze is focused on them.
"Major sport events (MSE) are a unique opportunity to demonstrate the capability of a country or economy, to show power, to polish your image, to raise identification internally," Sylvia Schenk, a former athlete and prominent compliance expert, told CNN.
"An authoritarian government does not ask its people and can just spend the money for a MSE. They decide on priorities, while countries like Switzerland, Norway, or Germany have to accept democratic decisions."
Alongside the award of FIFA hosting rights to Qatar and Russia, and Olympic hosting to either China or Kazakhstan, the number of authoritarian or semi-authoritarian hosts of races in the FIA Formula One calendar has increased from one in 1999 (6% of races) to six (31% of races) this year, the highest number of such hosts in an F1 season ever.
"I will say something which is crazy, but less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup," FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said in April at a symposium for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, comparing hosting the event there with the upcoming 2018 world cup in Russia.
"When you have a very strong head of state who can decide, as maybe (Russian President Vladimir) Putin can do in 2018...that is easier for us organizers than a country such as Germany ... where you have to negotiate at different levels."
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However, Schenk feels that while there have been a spate of awards for hosting major sporting event by countries like Russia, China and Qatar, this doesn't necessarily mean a sea change.
"We have more authoritarian countries that can afford the money for a MSE nowadays, there are 'newly rich' countries like Qatar, Azerbaijan for example. So this gives the impression that there is a trend. But Vancouver, London, Tokyo (have also bid and hosted recently).
"So no - there is no specific trend. Just the consequences of globalization, new rich countries and difficult discussions and skepticism in some democratic countries sometimes leading to the withdrawal of a bid."
In announcing Russia and Qatar the winners of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts, FIFA's president, Sepp Blatter, said the decisions merely reflect the organization's desire to spread the global game.
"We go to new lands," Blatter is quoted as saying in Reuters. "Never has the World Cup been in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and Arabic world has been waiting for a long time. So I'm a happy president when we talk about the development of football."
Human rights concerns
Concerns over the upcoming hosts do remain, however.
The two countries left in the bidding for the 2020 Winter Olympics have been criticized by human rights groups. Human Rights Watch called Kazakhstan's record "poor" in its 2014 World Report, citing a crackdown on free speech, flawed trials and torture in its prisons as major concerns.
Amnesty International was equally scathing about China's treatment of its citizens. Its 2013 report on the country criticized it for maintaining a "stranglehold" on activists, "subjecting many to harassment, intimidation, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance."
Neither the Kazakh nor Chinese ministries of foreign affairs have responded to CNN's requests for comment, but both countries have defended their human rights records in the past.
There are also concerns regarding the host countries of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, Russia and Qatar, both of which have been accused of human rights violations and, in the case of Qatar, treatment of migrant workers building the infrastructure for the 2022 Finals.
Qatar, for its part, has said it has made tangible progress in addressing the issue and is committed to labor reforms and the rights of workers. Meanwhile, Russia has long denied claims of human rights violations.
Schenk says hosting major sporting events can often be a powerful force for change. She cites the success of the Paralympics in Beijing as a way of highlighting the plight of disabled people in China, and says Qatar's hosting has similarly increased scrutiny on the country.
"The FIFA World Cup in Qatar shed a spotlight onto the horrible working conditions of the migrant workers there," she told CNN. "No one (publicly) cared until about 18 months ago. The international trade unions are happy with the awarding as this was the leverage to discuss this issue."
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and Moscow's annexation of Crimea has also had some, including British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, question the country's suitability for hosting a major world event.
There have also been concerns about the safety of gay fans in both conservative Russia and Qatar and in 2010, shortly after the two host countries were announced, FIFA President Sepp Blatter addressed the issue saying, "we are definitely living in a world of freedom and I'm sure when the World Cup will be in Qatar in 2022, there will be no problems."
Russian football has also been hit with recent censures over the racist behavior of some of its fans, leading to the Ivory Coast's Yaya Toure suggesting that some black players may boycott the next edition of the tournament.
Russia 2018 Chief Executive Alexey Sorokin told CNN's Amanda Davis that he could guarantee the safety of fans and players when the tournament touches down in Russia.
Toure's club side, Manchester City, this week played a UEFA Champions' League match against CSKA Moscow behind closed doors after the Russian club was hit with the punishment following racist chanting by their fans.
Addressing claims of racism in Russian football, Sorokin said, "while there are outbreaks of these undesired tendencies (racism) cannot be regarded as a trend in our country."
Graft report
Corruption questions surrounding the awarding of the Qatari bid have also arisen. FIFA ethics investigator Michael Garcia, has spent 18 months compiling a report on the possibility of ethics violations influencing the decision to hand the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to Russia and the Emirate, respectively. However, FIFA has confirmed that the report would not be made public, a decision that has seen accusations of a lack of transparency at the organization.
FIFA, for its part, says that the move is to protect the identities of those who testified.
"The reason why the investigatory chamber's report cannot be published in full is of course in order to protect the persons affected," Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of the independent Ethics Committee, said during the World Summit on Ethics in Sports.
World figures in the game, such as UEFA head Michel Platini and former Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer -- along with Garcia himself -- have called for the report, or at least significant parts of it, to be made public.
Beckenbauer, who has denied being offered any inducement to sway his executive committee vote, told a panel at a sports conference in London last week: "If you have nothing to hide you can publish and divulge it."
His comments follow current UEFA head Platini's calls for the document to be made available. "As long as the regulations of the FIFA code of ethics regarding the actual investigation are respected, I support the publishing of the Garcia Report," the Frenchman told CNN at the beginning of October.
"I have no issue with the findings and recommendations of the report being made available to the public."
A FIFA spokesperson told CNN: "We cannot speculate on what will happen until the full process of investigation is over and we get the conclusions."
Taking a moral stand?
So do the organizing committees of the world's showpiece sporting events have a moral obligation to pick candidates that are deemed ethically suitable?
Schenk says that a country's system of government should not affect their right to hold the world's showcase events.
"There are surely countries one should not award with a major sporting event (MSE), but this has to be decided case by case. MSE's can bring social change, they can help a country to work towards higher standards," she told CNN, via email.
"It is about development, the positive impact a MSE can have and of course clear rules for the (event) itself. The organization committee has to have (independently monitored) rules in place that ensure high standards for all steps they take."
Last week, as Putin handed out the Formula One winner's trophies at the new Sochi Autodrom -- itself an unusually high-profile move -- he might have reflected on the reported $50 million that Russia is paying to host the event.
As well as breathing new life into a resort town that has suffered financially since hosting its last major event in February, last weekend's glamorous F1 show has once again focused the world's attention on the country -- and the positive PR that hosting a major sporting event bestows on its hosts.
There are plenty of countries left that are willing to host major world sporting events. Whether their citizens agree however, may depend on whether they are given a chance to voice their opinions.