POSTED: February 15th 2018

NEIL WILSON: Back to The Future For The Winter Olympics

USA Gold Medalist Shaun White celebrates his victory in the Snowboard Men's Halfpipe Final  © Getty Images
USA Gold Medalist Shaun White celebrates his victory in the Snowboard Men's Halfpipe Final © Getty Images

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

(SFC) So far, so good. The United States vice-president sat within a few seats of North Korean dictator's sister without causing a diplomatic incident, and 400 North Koreans invaded the south to be greeted with nothing but smiles.

The Winter Olympic Games is well underway in PyeongChang, and the greatest threat to anybody's security has proved to be the wind and the cold.

Which makes a change. At too many recent Winter Olympics you might as well pack T-shirts as salopettes the weather was so benign.

For all its thrills, spills and jaw-dropping dangers the Winter Games continues to wrestle with one consuming problem. Most of its sports demand hugely expensive facilities which fated not to be viable in the longer term.

PyeongChang will have that problem in a few weeks after the Winter Paralympics end.  Already it has decided that the stadium which hosted the Opening Ceremony will be visited by the wrecking ball.

A structure that cost $109 million will be used just four times - the opening and closing ceremonies of the two Games - and then demolished. Madness, of course, and compounded by the existence of a 22,000 seat stadium in the city which could have been used.

But it is the facilities that a Winter Games demand that are the chief problem. What do you with a ski jump when the jumpers leave town? Or a bobsleigh track costing more than the Olympic Stadium?

To say that those two are niche sports would not be to understate their popularity. There were seventeen in the world and none paid their way without taxpayer support so where was the need for another in PyeongChang? There was none except that the Olympic Games was coming to town.

Even the International Olympic Committee did not want the Koreans to build another. It suggested that these Games use an existing track in Japan but local pride and politics would not stand for it.

So the bill for these Games rose by another notch. When the city bid they promised a budget for organisation and construction of no more than $9 billion. To date the bill is running close to $13 billion.

It is these runaway costs that are frightening away cities which might be willing to host future episodes. In 1995 there were nine bidding for the 2002 Winter Games. Only three bid for this year's Games and only two for 2022.

For 2026 there are five thinking about bidding but all are threatened by local opinion or referendum. The IOC is rightly worried and has formed a group working on shaving costs.

The IOC hardly helps itself by adding more and more events to its programme, four more this month and five more in Tokyo in 2020.

Many solutions have been suggested. A permanent site for summer and winter Games or at least a rota of a few existing Olympic cities in different continents are among them.

At the very least the IOC could say they will not accept bids from cities without the existing facilities. There are enough around the world.

After all this is the 22nd Winter Olympics being held at the 20th different city. Going back may be the future of the Winter Olympics.

** 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.

Keywords · Olympics · Neil Wilson

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