— Published 17 May 2022

For the 2030 Winter Games, the decision will be made on the street

The IOC is not giving it much publicity. The Olympic body is even wrapping the operation in a veneer of mystery and confidentiality. But a so-called “technical” team sent from Lausanne, made up of three experts whose identities are kept secret, has been travelling for several weeks from one Winter Games 2030 candidate city to another.

The trio of IOC emissaries began their tour last month in Salt Lake City, Utah. It then stopped in Vancouver, British Columbia. They are expected in Sapporo, Japan, before the end of May. His stopover in Spain – Barcelona and the Pyrenees – was scheduled for mid-May. It was cancelled at the request of the Spanish Olympic Committee (COE), as the project was still too poorly developed to be presented to experts from the Olympic body.

Officially, this food tour is not really part of the selection process for the future host city of the Winter Games. It was only intended to be technical. The only mission of the experts who left from Lausanne was to help the potential candidates refine their dossiers.

So it’s not really a big deal? Yes and no. Certainly, receiving envoys from the IOC is never insignificant for Salt Lake City, Vancouver and Sapporo, even if the delegation of experts does not include any representatives from the future Winter Games host commission. The visit is taken very seriously in Utah, British Columbia and Hokkaido Prefecture.

But the IOC and the project sponsors know that the battle will be played out on a completely different field. It could even be decided in the street. With a decisive role for the referee: the referendum.

Since the Sochi Winter Games in 2014 and their bill of tens of billions of dollars, there have been no surprises in popular consultations on Olympic bids. Their outcome is always the same: the no vote wins. Opponents of the Games have thus sent the Olympic dreams of Sion 2026, Hamburg 2024, Calgary 2026, etc. back to the bottom.

With a year to go before the IOC’s likely decision on the host of the 2030 Winter Games, announced for the Mumbai session in May 2023, the referendum issue is not being approached from the same angle by all the applicants.

The mayor of Sapporo, Katsuhiro Akimoto, has already announced that the bid would not go through the ballot box. Cautious and pragmatic, he explained that the opinion polls carried out over the last few months were sufficient to show support from the population. They show a favourable opinion rate of between 52% and 65%.

There was no referendum in Salt Lake City either. But the Americans have still not officially decided whether to bid for the Winter Games in 2030 or 2034.

In Canada, Vancouver City Council last month ruled out including a question on the Olympic bid in the next local elections, scheduled for October. But it is not yet clear that the project would definitely not require a referendum.

In Spain, on the other hand, the bid for Barcelona and the Pyrenees will have to get the green light from the population. The consultation is already on the calendar: it will take place on 24 July. However, this is on the condition that the political tensions between Catalonia and Aragon have not already reduced the project to dust.

In principle, an Olympic referendum is always a perilous exercise. In the case of Pyrenees-Barcelona 2030, it is more than risky. The latest events show that the opposition is getting organised and making itself heard.

Several thousand people took to the streets of Puigcerdà, a town of less than 10,000 inhabitants on the French-Spanish border in Catalonia, last Sunday (photo above). The demonstrators marched with banners bearing the slogan “For a living Pyrenees, stop the Olympics“. At the head of the procession, the anti-Olympics activists.

Organised at the initiative of the Stop JJOO group, the demonstration gathered 2,000 people according to the police, 5,000 according to its instigators. The opposition camp suggests that the Games in 2030 would consume considerable resources in a region where the future of winter sports is under serious threat from global warming. They believe that the Olympic and Paralympic event would distract the attention of authorities and investors from the real issue of the next few years: the future of tourism in a region where snow will become increasingly scarce.

The leaders of the protest warn that if the bid is maintained, they will vote en masse against the project in the referendum on 24 July.