Norway said no to being the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) trophy wife. Which means the Winter Olympics is left with what is quickly becoming its dictatorship default. Only by learning from the Oslo Olympic process, can the Games be rescued.
When it was announced that Norway was chosen to host the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, a nation erupted in joy. Our "internationally acclaimed" (the ultimate label for a Norwegian) violinist, Arve Tellefsen, smashed his Stradivarius on live TV like some drugged punk rocker.
Even better, the Swedes sulked. A municipal head from our rival candidate city, Østersund, gave an interview where he stated: "I am not only betrayed, I am pissed". Long before YouTube, Norwegian broadcasters made sure all Norwegians saw this clip as many times as you've probably seen "What does the Fox say".
Now, Norway was again ready to host, in 2022. That is, a group of Norwegian sports leaders were ready to host. And who could blame them? The Lillehammer Olympics was a huge sports success, creating new stadiums and new inspiration for coming generations of Norwegian athletes.
However, this time the nation, as evidenced in poll after poll, was against. Case closed, right? Not so fast. You see, democratic politicians are not so different from authoritarian politicians when it comes to seeking the glow of world attention. The Olympics is a sporting event for athletes and their fans. But this has never discouraged political leaders from showing up, hoping to steal some Olympic glory.
Thus, large fractions of the two largest parties, the Conservatives and Labour, were actively campaigning for the Oslo 2022 bid. Both party leaders seemed to be for. You know, the same people who would be waving to the crowds, dressed in athletic gear, as if it was them who had just upset the rest of the world with two skis on their feet.
Conservatives ended bid
But at least democratic politicians have ways of being told that the nation disapproves of their policies. The end of Norway's Olympic bid was when the Conservatives' parliamentary group took one last, hard look at the polls and decided to call it quits.
So, why were Norwegians against? One: Economy. The only option the electorate showed any enthusiasm for was a stripped-down version of the Games, which would have cost one tenth of what Sotchi did. That is, it would be budgeted to cost one tenth, however, Olympic budgets have a way of multiplying.
Two: The IOC. Which is also an economic argument. An Olympics-on-the-cheap would imply turning down page after page of high-cost IOC demands. Through dialogue with the IOC, the Norwegian officials understood that there was no way they could come between the IOC and their privileges.
This was best evidenced by the organisation's response to the Norwegian decision. IOC Executive Director, Christophe Duris, issued a press release claiming that the Norwegian decision was made "on the basis of half-truths and factual inaccuracies". In which way did IOC know of, but fail to communicate, this at an earlier stage?
And then to cap it off, Duris boldly went where no man has gone before: claiming that the Sotchi Olympics (together with Vancouver) "either broke even or made a profit". Really? On a $51 billion budget? Do share this evidence. Was the Sotchi closing ceremony, the invasion of Crimea, the break-even point?
We Norwegians don't expect the rest of the world to stop and listen when we explain ourselves internationally. We are a small country. However, in winter sports we are not only a superpower. We are the superpower. No other nation has won more medals in the Winter Olympics than Norway.
Discovering oil in the 70s has allowed our politicians to spend money on public projects that don't necessarily require breaking even or making a profit. One might call them party money. Norwegians like a good party. And we are surely winter sports crazy. But hey, we're not crazy crazy.
We are also the country who awards the Nobel Peace Prize. And the way the IOC partnered with the Beijing and Sotchi Olympics made a long-lasting impact on us. Perhaps this part of the lesson is best told by highlighting the piano player. Norwegian business leader, Gerhard Heiberg, has been an IOC member since functioning as the President of Organising Committee at the Lillehammer Olympics.
During the Sotchi Olympics, the Norwegian female cross-country team wore black armbands for a race, mourning the tragic passing of the brother of one of the team members. Heiberg was so eager to please his IOC superiors that he warned the (still mourning) girls, that the medals they had won could be withdrawn. His response to the uproar he caused was to call the Norwegian people arrogant. (Given his obvious insight in such a condition, the last part could have potentially been hurtful.)
Ahead of the Sotchi Olympics, Heiberg went out of his way to caution Norwegian athletes against any acts meant to oppose homophobic Russian laws. When Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, Heiberg ran the former Olympics host's errand. Suggesting that the Norway government apologized for the award on behalf of the independent Nobel Committee.
The prospect of injecting even more artificially enhanced nationalism into the nation that has used every opportunity to harass the Norwegian government after the Nobel Prize to Xiaobo, concerns us. As does the idea of "Cultural Learnings for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan", however amusing it may sound.
IOC's demand list
The IOC could have at least tried to seduce its potential trophy wife. But its 7000 page long list of demands sealed the deal against a common future together. Who asks for its own traffic lane? The USSR Politburo? And a cocktail with the Norwegian King, paid by him? Hey, we're a constitutional monarchy, Norwegian politicians decide when and with whom that guy drinks cocktails!
Together with our main competitors, the Winter Olympics form a small close-knit sports family. However, they are managed by the same IOC. Most of these countries are also modern democracies with ever-growing concerns regarding the legitimacy of the organisation. Sweden, Germany and Poland pulled out at an earlier stage for many of the same reasons.
By again hosting the Winter Olympics, Norway was looking for a chance to show the world, not only that we are a few hundreds of a second faster than the rest on two skis, but that we belong to a society that promotes common welfare and opportunity. And that we can create a sports celebration without excessive use of money or might.
At least one guy made a profit from the Lillehammer Olympics: Little Steven. His character on the Netflix hit comedy series, "Lilyhammer", is a mafia boss that ends up on witness protection in this small Norwegian town. The humour consists of ridiculing the constituents for insisting that he plays by the rules of a social democracy.
The show makes Norwegians laugh. Because it's on TV. The IOC are for real. A modern democracy's response to the IOC's out-of-touch demands for organising a Winter Olympics, is best articulated by Little Steven's character Frank Tagliano: "Fogettaboutit".