(Reuters) - Oslo quitting the race to stage the 2022 Winter Olympics has not hurt the International Olympic Committee but has underlined that changes are needed to make the Games more attractive to bidders, president Thomas Bach told Reuters on Thursday.
IOC head Bach said that Norway’s decision to pull out was mainly “a political one” given the country’s current minority coalition government.
Norway’s government withdrew Oslo’s bid for the Winter Olympics on Wednesday, leaving Kazakhstan’s Almaty and Beijing as the only two candidates, with the International Olympic Committee set to vote on the winning bid in July, 2015.
Oslo also became the fourth city after Stockholm, Krakow in Poland and Ukraine’s Lviv to pull out of the 2022 Games bidding process.
“We are really feeling sorry for the Norwegian athletes and sports movement who were very engaged in this bid, because they realized what a push it would have given for sport and healthy lifestyle in Norway,” Bach told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“On the other hand it is clear that we have some issues with the Olympic Winter Games, for geographical reasons and some other reasons. This is what we are addressing with the Olympic Agenda 2020.”
Bach shrugged off suggestions the IOC had been bruised by the repeated snubs, but accepted Games costs had been a factor.
“We haven’t even got a black eye. We should not forget we have two candidates (Beijing and Almaty) who are offering two very interesting approaches,” said the German, a former Olympic fencing champion who took over as president last year with the 2022 bidding process already under way.
Neither of the two, however, possess the sparkling winter sports pedigree of Norway whose athletes have won more Winter Games medals than any other nation.
Nor do they have a large local winter sports fan base, crucial for the success of the Winter Olympics.
The IOC will seek to approve changes for reducing the cost of the Games and the bidding process, which alone can reach $100 million, at its session in Monaco in December when it puts ‘Agenda 2020’ to the vote.
The price tag of the Games has been the biggest concern, with this year’s Sochi Olympics costing a record $51 billion.
While Norway promised an event that would cost a tenth of the Sochi figure, campaigners still could not rally sufficient support.
Even the IOC’s own $880 million contribution to the 2022 Olympics could not entice the Scandinavians.
“We see with the 2022 bids that we are living in a time of world crisis, financial crisis and that there are of course — and that is legitimate — more questions being asked by the people about the financing of the Games,” said Bach.
“This is why on the agenda (in Monaco) we want to address the issue of reducing the cost of the Games, of reducing the cost of bidding.
“Legacy and sustainability issues must be in focus from the very beginning.”
Bach said that instead of cities having to fit IOC criteria, the focus should switch to the Games being part of a city’s growth plan.
“The proposal is to change the philosophy of bidding,” he said.
“In the past we have asked the cities in which way they would fulfill the conditions set,” said Bach. “So in the future we would prefer to ask the cities how they see an Olympic Games best fitting into their long term social, sports, ecological and economic development.”
Editing by Ossian Shine