Salzburg’s Lost Olympics

Whatever the Glory, Most Locals Were Against Hosting the World Games

Salzburg’s exit in the first round of voting by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) earlier this summer (July 4th) means that, despite being its third attempt, the city will not yet be hosting a Winter Olympics. However, the organisers of Salzburg’s bid were quick to point to the positives that the bid itself brought about, and it seems that there may be other Austrian winners thanks to Sochi’s success.

Indeed, it may be considered a small success that Salzburg made it so far in the process at all. Of the seven countries whose cities were offered the chance to apply, Salzburg was the only one to represent a country that has already staged the event, twice in fact. Despite the IOC’s obvious policy in recent years of ‘breaking the mould’, and in doing so introducing the games to regions or even continents that have never hosted them before, Salzburg’s file was deemed strong enough to merit selection for the shortlist of three. It was between these three; Salzburg, Sochi in Russia and PyeongChang in South Korea, that the final vote earlier this summer in Guatemala would decide.

Unfortunately, Salzburg did not make it past the first round of voting, winning only 25 votes in comparison to Sochi’s 34 and PyeongChang’s 36. Sochi gained most of Salzburg’s votes in the final round, and the Russian organisers plea to picture the medal ceremonies held against the backdrop of the black sea will now become a reality. However, as disappointing as Salzburg’s failed bid may seem, there are those who stand to benefit from Sochi’s gain.

First among those are no doubt the majority of Salzburg residents, who were against the staging of the games in their region from the start. Despite the investment that would have flooded into the region, over 60% of Salzburgers voted ‘no’ to the bid in a plebiscite held in April 2005. The Salzburg Gemeinderat (municipal council) chose not to heed the result however, and voted 29 to 11 in favour of the bid.
Secondly, as pointed out by the bid’s organisers, the publicity it brought about served as a fantastic showcase for the region and its winter sport facilities. According to Gernot Leitner, Geschäftsführer for the Salzburg bid, ‘more than 10,000 articles in the international press showing Salzburg as the beautiful alpine tourist destination that it is, plus the 1000 minutes of television footage doing the same, and all that in the first week of July alone,’ served as wonderful advertising for the region. If the value of such advertising is taken into account, the bid itself could be seen to have turned a profit.

The biggest financial gains will, however, be felt in the business sector, as many firms stood to make more from a Sochi win than a Salzburg victory. Sochi’s bid was based on a promise to launch and complete a huge construction project, to build the necessary infrastructure required to stage the games. Everything from the telecommunications and power infrastructure to hotels and transport links must be renovated or built from scratch. 15 sporting venues alone have to be built were none existed before.

And this is were Austria’s already developed and experienced winter sport construction industry will benefit immensely from the Sochi win. Delegations from Austrian firms such as Alpine Mayreder and Strabag have been surveying and building rapport in the Russian region for years. A spokesman for Strabag, Christian Ebner, stated that the total investment in the region is expected to be as high as 20 billion Euros, of which Strabag itself expects to gain as much as 5%. “The Austrian economy can celebrate a Sochi win as much as it would have celebrated a Salzburg win,” continued Ebner. “The games will be prepared with a considerable portion of Austrian participation, much more than the case may would have been in PyeongChang.”

So every cloud can be said to have, quite literally, a silver lining. Despite this, the organisers of Salzburg’s latest bid have decided to take a rest and hang up their boots for now: Salzburg has already ruled out the possibility of making an application for the following Olympics in 2018.

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