- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Hoping to stage the Winter Games for a third time, Norwegian officials acknowledged Monday they still need to gain public support and government financial backing for the project.

On paper, Oslo would shape up as the strong favorite among the five cities vying to host the 2022 Olympics. But bid leaders conceded that they must first win over the politicians and citizens at home.

Time is running short, though.

Oslo Mayor Stian Berger Roesland said Parliament won’t vote on the financial guarantees until the summer or autumn.

The International Olympic Committee, which requires guarantees from bid cities, will select a short list of finalists in July. Without that support, Oslo’s bid would founder.

“I don’t think we are on the edge,” Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg said after leading a bid presentation in Sochi. “I think we have time. I think we will convince them. When you talk to the politicians individually, I think they are positive.”

Another Scandinavian capital, Stockholm, pulled out of the 2022 race last month because of concerns over costs.

Affording the games should not be a problem for oil-rich Norway. Oslo’s proposed budget is only $3.4 billion, including public investment and security, a small figure by Olympic standards.

With more than half the facilities already in place, Oslo also has a separate $2 billion budget for private investment to build a media center and media village.

An application for state guarantees passed an initial hurdle in December when the government found “no significant weaknesses.”

“It’s a question of having a process in a democratic country,” Heiberg said. “I am of the opinion this will turn in the right direction. We are not there yet, but I think we will get there in due time.”

“Everybody will come on aboard when the time comes,” said Inge Andersen, secretary general of the Norwegian Olympic Committee.

The other bidders are Almaty, Kazakhstan; Beijing; Krakow, Poland; and Lviv, Ukraine.

The IOC executive board will meet on July 8-9 in Lausanne, Switzerland, to decide which cities reach the final stage of the campaign. The full IOC will select the winner on July 31, 2015, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Oslo hosted the 1952 Winter Olympics and Lillehammer staged the 1994 Games. Under the 2022 plans, the indoor events and ski jumping would be held in Oslo, with the Alpine competitions in Lillehammer, a two-hour drive away.

Oslo’s bid has faced a lack of public support. Heiberg said the most recent poll put national support at only 42 percent. It’s hard to imagine the IOC choosing a bid from a country where most residents are opposed to the games.

“We are going to move forward with our national campaign of getting support for a bid,” Roesland said, adding that polls showed two-thirds backing among high schoolers. “I believe that we will have enthusiastic support.”

Heiberg said he regretted that Stockholm had pulled out, and that St. Moritz and Munich decided not to bid after being turned down by voters in referendums in Switzerland and Germany.

“Maybe the costs in Sochi have frightened them a bit,” Heiberg said, referring to the $51 billion price tag of Russia’s first Winter Olympics.

The bid team said Oslo could recreate the magic of the Lillehammer Games, widely acclaimed as among the greatest games for its colorful and passionate fans.

After taking the Olympics to Sochi, Rio de Janeiro and Pyeongchang, South Korea, the IOC will be looking for a stable choice, Heiberg said.

“This is a good and safe place where we know the Olympics will be a success,” he said. “We need to do some experiments from time to time but we also need to go to safe places.”

The Oslo bid brought out Norwegian cross-country ski great Bjorn Daehlie, winner of a Winter Games record 12 medals.

“We have a saying in Norway - a Norwegian is born with skis on,” he said.

Another big medal haul by the Norwegian team in Sochi could build up public support for the games, he said.

“Skiing and winter sports have a special place in Norwegians’ hearts,” Daehlie said. “Success here will bring back the dreams of Lillehammer in 1994. It will help the bid process.”


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