Winter Olympics 2018 Ambivalence Meets Bavarian Bid for Games
German athletes and officials in Vancouver are lobbying hard for Munich to be chosen to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. But back home in Bavaria, the idea is losing popularity, and small-town farmers might scuttle the whole plan.
It's day three of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and Willy Bogner is having a bite to eat at a waterfront restaurant. German luger Felix Loch has just won the country's first gold medal of the games. A day earlier, police used batons to quell violent anti-Olympics protests in downtown Vancouver. But Bogner hasn't noticed any of this since he doesn't have any time to stroll through the city.
Bavaria's capital city has its sights set on hosting the Winter Games in eight years, and Bogner, 68, is the head of Munich's 2018 bid. Two other cities, France's Annecy and South Korea's Pyeongchang, have also tossed their hats in the ring. Bogner has come to Canada to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that Munich is the best choice.
Bogner is staying at the official IOC hotel, where he meets with IOC members every day. Since arriving in Vancouver, he has already had 70 meetings, not all of which have been easy. For example, Bogner says, the IOC representatives from Africa know "very little about winter sports."
Bogner looks exhausted and not completely awake, but he can't give up now. While in Vancouver, he's hoping to meet with at least 100 IOC officials. This is about the Olympics; he's fighting for Germany.
He wolfs down a chicken dinner and hurries back to the hotel.
Though she's a long way from Vancouver, Christl Freier is also fighting. She's not fighting for Germany, though; she's fighting for her home. The elementary school teacher from the small town of Oberammergau in southern Bavaria is standing on a hiking path on the edge of town, where it's cold and quiet. Gazing at the snow-covered meadows and mountain slopes surrounding her, Freier says: "I don't need the Olympics here."
Oberammergau is a town of about 5,000 people famous for its wood carvings and even more so for its Passion Play. If Munich wins the 2018 bid, the biathlon and cross-country skiing contests will be held in the town. Cross-country ski runs, grandstands and a media center will be constructed in the fields below the Romanshöhe neighborhood. After the games, everything will be dismantled, and the natural environment is expected to recover from the spectacle within a few years. Or at least that's the plan.
Last November, the Oberammergau town council approved the Olympic bid by a 16-1 vote. At the time, people in favor of hosting the games argued that they would raise the profile of the town, which is heavily dependent on tourism. The only vote against the plan came from Christl Freier, a council member representing a group called the Women's List. When the decision was announced, Freier said: "We are compromising our natural environment. We are sliding into something here, and no one knows what it will end up costing us."
After the vote, Freier became the target of quite a few barbed remarks in the town. But she didn't let that bother her, and now many other town residents have also started questioning the decision. Some local farmers have become a thorn in the side of the team advocating for Munich because they won't grant permission for the Games to be held on their property. It's dawned on them that the town has signed off on something completely unpredictable.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
The Olympics are a gigantic spectacle. For about three weeks, they completely transform a country and a city. They can release a massive burst of excitement, as they have in Vancouver, and trigger a national sense of joy that radiates into the rest of the world. But the Olympics also involve power, politics and profit. Though the IOC gives host cities neither guarantees nor assurances, it still makes plenty of demands that have to be fulfilled. Indeed, negotiation isn't one of the IOC's strong points.
Bogner, the CEO of Munich 2018, hasn't had a chance to meet Christl Freier, but he will be meeting with IOC officials from South America at his hotel this afternoon. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and Christian Ude, Munich's mayor, have also traveled to Canada to add their weight to Bogner's campaign for the 2018 games. There are also employees of the organization in charge of the bid, who are trying to get a behind-the-scenes look at the games. And, lastly, there are lobbyists trying to divine the IOC's mood.
In their minds, they are all working toward the same goal. "We're talking about the next generations of Germans interested in winter sports," Bogner says. From his vantage point here in Vancouver, Oberammergau is just a very small, distant place.