POSTED: February 15th 2017
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NEIL WILSON: Are the days of the Olympics numbered?

Christoph (L) and Robert Harting © Getty Images
Christoph (L) and Robert Harting © Getty Images


THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) There can be few families who have invested more of their lives in Olympic sport than the German brothers Robert and Christoph Harting.

Robert, the elder by six years, throws a discus so well that he was Olympic, world and European champion at the same time. He competed at three successive Olympic Games, winning his gold in 2012.

His brother ensured that the Olympic title remained in the family four years later in Rio when he won gold.

So it might have come as something of a surprise that young Christoph predicted this month that the Olympic will "slowly die" by 2040 unless his compatriot Thomas Bach resigns as president of the International Olympic Committee.

Except, like gold medals, that opinion runs in the family. Last year Robert was even more dismissive of Bach when he refused to ban Russia from the Rio Olympics because of its systemic doping. Bach, he said, "is part of the doping system, not the anti-doping system."

Christoph's latest prediction of slow death for the Games coincided with yet another European city deciding by referendum that it wanted nothing to do with hosting a Games. Sixty per cent in the Swiss canton of Graubuenden, which contains the cities of Davos and St Moritz, were opposed to a bid for the 2026 Winter Games, up several points from a similar vote taken four years ago on a bid for 2022.

They follow the citizens and administrations of Hamburg, Krakow, Munich, Oslo, Stockholm and Rome in pulling their bids, either after a public referendum or obvious public apathy. Just two cities remained for the 2022 vote, just three now for 2024. Now Europe is cold-shouldering another winter Games.

So Christoph Harting may be right in his assessment of the future but not necessarily in his understanding of the reason. Public perception of widespread doping in Olympic sport is probably the least of the reasons for the present negativity surrounding hosting a Games.

After all, nobody in Switzerland is any less excited these days when a Swiss stands on the podium when Olympic medals are awarded. Doping seems not to have turned off the public. The more likely motivation for its rejection is a collective failure of its citizenry to see any good reason for hosting an Olympic Games.

There have been pressing reasons in the past. Regeneration of an area is one that applied to Barcelona and London. Re-establishment in the global community was another. Think Tokyo and Seoul. Politics was another for Moscow and Beijing. The publicity value was often a reason for Winter Games bids.

St Moritz and Davos are rich communities. They could afford an Olympic Games. But why would they want one?  They do not need regeneration. They are well endowed with hotels and sports facilities. They do not need publicity to attract tourists. They are world renowned. Try getting a hotel room there in the winter season. A Winter Olympics would interfere with the existing tourist market.

One Swiss regions remains interested in bidding for 2026 - Sion. It bid for the 2006 Games and lost to Turin. Its citizens have been offered a referendum next year on a second bid and expects a deep well of enthusiasm.

The five rings remain of value to multi-national companies for branding but for the citizens of the world less so. Bach's resignation would not solve that problem but it is time he came up with some answers. Or young Harting may be proved right.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications


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