Soaring Costs Quiet Cheers in Norway Over 1994 Olympics
LILLEHAMMER, Norway (AP) _ Soaring cost estimates have silenced cheering over this small mountain city being picked as site of the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Instead, voices are raised in a debate over costs, roughly $1.04 billion, and the definition of ″compact games,″ a concept that charmed the International Olympic Committee (IOC) into selecting Lillehammer a year ago.
But heated debate is a natural part of arranging every Olympic Games, said an IOC official.
Lillehammer formally requested state loan guarantees of $1 billion Friday, nearly four times what was agreed upon when the city applied for the games. Projected income $350 million dollars.
″The 1.8 billion (kroner) estimate was from 1982. There have been a lot of changes in plans, plus inflation,″ explained Petter Roenningen, general manager of the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee (LOOC).
Norway is in an economic slump, so some politicians blanched at the estimates and worry that the Olympics will overburden this Scandinavian country of 4.2 million people.
When this nation of winter sports enthusiasts last had the games, in 1952, they cost $130 million.
″We want a nice, enjoyable Olympics, but we don’t want to be left in economic ruin,″ said Minister of Culture Eleonore Bjartveit.
She suggested that organizers review their budgets, reconsider standards and consider spreading the games around, to save money by using facilities in other cities.
The committee refuses to budge from the compact games concept, under which it promised to build most arenas, facilities and accommodations within a 25 mile radius now stretched to 37 miles.
″The main reason Lillehammer was given the Olympics was because of the compact games concept. We will stick to it,″ said Roenningen.
The LOOC claims cutting the budget much will compromise the quaility of the games and damage Norway’s reputation as a winter sports nation.
″The Games will be compact,″ Roenningen said. Spreading them around will not save money, he said.
″We must have an acceptable Olympics but we will demand that the budget is reviewed extremely thorougly,″ said Prime Minister Jan P. Syse at a press conference Friday.
Roenningen said he hopes Parliament will approve loan guarantees no later than April, because construction is due to begin early next year and ″delays could become expensive.″
Critics ask what a remote city of 22,000 will do with the facilities when the 16-day games are over. They call Lillhammer, 112 miles north of Oslo, selfish for refusing to share the games with cities outside its district, named Mjoesa after Norway’s largest lake.
Others worry that an Olympic boom will forever change the environment of picturesque and historic Lillehammer.
Proponents see the Games as a source of prestige and opportunity.
″The Olympics are a gift package all wrapped up for Norwegian business. But after 14 months of arguing, we have’t even managed to untie the ribbon,″ said a Lillehammer businesswoman.
The debate, the subject of daily newspaper and broadcast coverage, is natural: the Olympics are amomg the biggest events ever arranged here and Norwegians love sports or dicussions, said Roenningen.
As loan guarantor, the state wields considerable influence. Syse said Friday that the government will probably not intervene, despite earlier government threats to take over control.
″But when we look at compact games it is a matter of seeing how much they can be spread and still remain within the concept,″ he said.
″No one knows exactly how compact is defined,″ said Berit Griebenow, of Ministry of Culture, which will review the request for state loan guarantees.
Per Haga, the state’s representative on the LOOC, said spreading the Games has to be considered.
″That debate has two aspects. First, the possibility of saving money by using existing facilities. Then there is local pride, other cities want some of the prestige,″ he said.
The LOOC wants to build facilities in five municipalities, all within 37 miles of Lillehammer, departures from the original plan that the IOC will probably accept, Roenningen said.
IOC board member Marc Holder warned Norway against straying further from the compact package that was accepted in Seoul in September 1988.
″The biggest problems with spreading the games is the moral responsibility Lillehammer has to its main rival, Ostersund, Sweden. Lillehammer won the vote in Seoul on its compact games promise,″ he said in a television interview.
Other cities, like Oslo, offered to arrange parts of the games, which prompted 1,500 Lillehammer residents to stage a protest march.
Splitting the Games could also violate a $300 million television contract, with CBS.
″If we spread the Games around, we can just start paying back CBS a little at a time. Our contract with CBS and with the IOC is based on the concept of compact games,″ said Gunnar Mjell, who resigned in protest as LOOC spokesman on Monday.
Some outsiders are puzzled by the Norwegian hubbub. ″It seems that Norway doesn’t realize the magnitude of the project it has undertaken,″ a Swiss visitor said.
Tempers have flared. At one point, Lillehammer mayor Audon Tron threatened to cancel the contract, a threat few took seriously.
Former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland urged Norwegians to quit bickering and recall their vision of turning Lillehammer into a major Scandinavian sports center.
″The Olympics is one of Norway’s big projects in the 1990s, and we will manage it,″ she said.
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