High costs dog Winter Olympics

The future of the Winter Olympics looks to be in doubt as countries shy away hosting duties.

Oslo, Norway was the fourth city to drop out of the race to host the 2022 Games last week, leaving only two cities in contention – Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan. The three other cities to withdraw were Stockholm, Sweden; Krakow, Poland and Lviv, Ukraine. The Norwegian government declined to provide financial support, citing concerns over the cost of hosting the Games. The last edition of the Games took place earlier this year in Sochi, Russia, to the tune of $51 billion. The next competition will be in February 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Cayman Islands has had a presence at the Games in recent years, through the efforts of Dow Travers. The costs of attending the Games are also substantial, with countries like Jamaica struggling to send competitors. Travers, 27, says the financial benefits for Cayman by competing this year and at the 2010 Vancouver Games in Canada outweigh the expenses.

“We have now, most likely, created well over half a million dollars worth of media coverage between the two games – probably closer to three-quarters of a million, with over US$260,000 being generated in Vancouver alone and significantly more coverage in Sochi,” Travers said.

Attracted by the apparent oddity of an alpine skier from the Caribbean, Travers was featured on international news outlets, including CNN and the New York Times, and appeared in a segment about athletes from tropical countries on Winter Olympics broadcaster NBC. He also grabbed added attention for being one of the few competitors to speak positively about athletes’ living conditions and helping the Jamaican bobsled team with their accommodations.

In Russia, Travers – the eldest of three brothers – would crash in both the Men’s Giant Slalom and the Men’s Slalom, suffering DNF (Did Not Finish) results and a mild concussion in the process. Those efforts are in stark contrast to his showing at the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Travers placed 69th in the giant slalom.

In Sochi, Travers was joined by his coach Jake Zamansky, a former U.S. Olympic skier, and a delegation that included David Carmichael as chef de mission, Cayman Islands Olympic Committee President Donald McLean, and Bernie Bush, the Olympic Committee treasurer. Travers said on the whole, he remains honored to have represented Cayman and intends to do so again in South Korea.

“It’s a great honor to be able to represent Cayman, to be able to wear our name for everyone who cannot. I went for it in the giant slalom, and if I had not knocked myself out I know I would have had a good result. As always, I’m amazed by the enormous amount of publicity that we received and all the associated positive media that was generated for Cayman.

“We had previously received a letter from the International Ski Federation congratulating my brother, Dean, on being ranked number one in the world for his age and added that ‘it was better for the global promotion and interest of skiing for different nations to appear at the top of the ranking lists and standings.’ I believe this coverage reinforced that statement and also the positive image of the Cayman Islands. I look forward to hopefully representing Cayman, alongside my brother, in Pyeongchang.”

Whether the Travers brothers compete in 2022 and beyond remains to be seen as each edition of the Games has seen a higher cost for host countries. At the 2002 Salt Lake City Games in Utah, organizers had an operations budget of $1.3 billion and reported a surplus of about $100 million. The United States government spent about $600 million helping the local body. An additional $1.1 billion was earmarked for roads and infrastructure improvements.

At the 2006 Turin Games in Italy, the operating budget was $1.4 billion, and organizers reported a final shortfall of $32 million. Overall spending, including construction, was estimated at around $3.6 billion. The $100 million luge and bobsled track built for the Games was dismantled this year because of high operating costs.

At the 2010 Vancouver Games, the budget was roughly $2 billion, total costs were put at around $6 billion and the city never banked the $100 million profit it expected from selling units in a downtown waterfront neighborhood that was formerly the athletes village.

For the 2014 Sochi Games, all the venues were built from scratch, the $51 billion figure included long-term infrastructure projects such as roads and hotels and the original cost of building venues was about $12 billion. It cost around $2 billion to run the games and the Russian government spent $420 million on subsidies.

In the face of those rising costs, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said there is a push to ease the financial burdens on prospective countries.

“We have to communicate, communicate, communicate about the two different budgets,” Bach said. “We have to see how we can reduce the costs of the management of the games and the cost of bidding for the games.”

The remaining 2022 candidates, Beijing and Almaty, are not in established winter sports countries. It should be noted that China and Kazakhstan are reportedly both economically strong and run by authoritarian governments. Bach said both nations have appealing attributes, as Almaty has a “long winter sports tradition” going back to the Soviet era while Beijing proposes to use venues from the 2008 Olympics, “creating a new winter sport center for hundreds of millions of people living in the region.”