Would a candidacy for the Winter Olympics put Ukraine on ice?
Ukraine wants to host its first Olympics and become the second country in Eastern Europe to host winter games.
Populist President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, announcing Kiev’s ambitions, said that “our great state deserves to host the Olympics”.
But beyond the sound clips, what is the reality? Struggling to recover from the COVID pandemic, can Kiev afford the huge accommodation costs?
Why does Ukraine want to host the Winter Olympics?
“The big dream is the Olympics in Ukraine,” said President Zelenskyy, speaking on the 30th anniversary of the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee.
The idea seems to be to combine a bid for the Winter Olympics with a huge infrastructure spending program already underway. Euronews reported on Kiev’s ambition to modernize thousands of kilometers of its rutted roads. Zelenskyy also recently launched a program to “make Ukraine healthier”, including the construction of 2,000 parks, 10,000 sports fields, 100 stadiums, 19 ice rinks, 18 children’s sports boarding schools and 100 sports schools.
“But at times like this,” Zelenskyy continued. “I always remember the words of the weightlifters and my dad, the master of the sport in weightlifting. They say, ‘It’s not always easy to go and try to lift something. It’s easy not to try to lift something. leave.’ That’s what the weightlifters said. Therefore, we will definitely try the Olympics ”,
Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, said it made sense – given Ukraine’s participation in the Olympics and infrastructure plans – for Kiev to make an offer.
“Right now we are talking about hosting the Winter Olympics. At least we will compete for it. There is a formal procedure for this, which we will follow, ”he said.
“The closest option the world Olympic movement will vote on is 2030. It is entirely possible for us to prepare for this term or for the years to come.
“We are confident that Ukraine will be able to implement this task on its own – on its territory. We have everything we need for this, both from a natural point of view and from a a social and infrastructural point of view.
What do experts say about Ukraine’s ambition to host a Winter Olympics?
Podolyak argues that Ukraine can afford the costs of hosting the Olympics.
The Council of Foreign Relations, a US-based think tank, has found that hosting the Olympics often costs more than expected.
For example, he said, the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea were expected to cost $ 7 billion (€ 6 billion) but ended up costing around $ 13 billion ($ 11.2 billion). euros).
“Considering the fact that the renewal of our state’s infrastructure will continue in the years to come, we will build whatever may be necessary for the Olympics anyway,” Podolyak said.
“Special projects can be implemented in addition. Funds from Ukraine and investors who can reach such an ambitious goal are sufficiently filled to prepare for the Olympics one hundred percent.”
But the experts consulted by Euronews are skeptical.
Aleksey Jakubin, associate professor at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, said it might just be too expensive.
He points to the fact that Ukraine has budget problems, a war with pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country and many poor people to look after.
“Next year Ukraine has to repay a large part of its creditors,” he added. “Therefore, it will be a huge financial investment for Ukraine to host the Olympics at this stage.
“This idea of the Winter Olympics is also seen as contradictory by some Ukrainians. People are told that we have budget problems and problems with creditors, but then we can host the games, which will be a huge financial investment. . “
Ukraine dropped its bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Lyiv due to the political crisis that erupted in 2014.
Jakubin said Lviv would likely be the host city for the latest bid.
“Zelenskyy and his entourage believe that the Olympic Games are a good idea for public relations and that they can provide resources to improve infrastructure,” Jakubin said.
‘Kittens, happy faces and unicorns’
Professor Jules Boykoff, an expert on Olympics policy at the University of the Pacific in Oregon, told Euronews Ukraine would face many challenges if it goes ahead with its plans .
While politicians often talk about the many benefits of hosting the Olympics, the reality is often quite different, Boykoff said.
For example, games often get more expensive than expected.
A 2020 study found that the average price for the last five Olympics was around $ 12 billion (€ 10.3 billion), which did not include infrastructure and hotel costs. In addition, the study points out that the Olympic Games in Greece in 2004 weakened the Greek economy and “contributed to the country’s deep financial and economic crises”.
“The records show that every Olympic Games dating back to the 1960s, from which we have reliable data, have experienced cost overruns. At the beginning of the offers it is common to say that it will only cost x amount. Yet almost inevitably we see costs rise over time, ”Boykoff said, adding that many facilities are often left unused after games are over.
He said that reality often only manifests itself when a city finally gets the Olympics and the real costs become visible. For Ukraine, Boykoff said, it will be essential to be realistic about the costs and to develop a detailed plan, which should be made public from the start.
“The problems are not just about the costs. There are other elements as well, such as the militarization of public space, ”Boykoff said. “Many hosts use the games to increase their weaponry and pass special laws that tend to suppress dissent. And they stay on the books after the Olympics. We are also seeing forced evictions and displacement, especially of the poor and the working class.
“If the Ukrainian team decides to present a serious candidacy, it will have to have solved these other problems rooted in the Olympics,” he added, stressing that it was important to involve the Ukrainians in the decision-making process, possible with a vote. .
“At the start of the auction, it’s often about kittens, happy faces and unicorns, but as soon as the bids get serious, criticism will quickly pour in against the Ukrainian bid team,” he said.