Business

Selling the Olympics to the Swiss

  • 25 January 2013
  • From the section Business
Swiss President Ueli Maurer
Ueli Maurer said Switzerland was being very cautious in its approach to the Olympics bid

When London wanted to host the 2012 Olympics, it had to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

That was no mean feat, until you compare it with the lengths that the Swiss government is having to go to in its bid to have the 2022 Winter Olympics in Davos and St Moritz.

In March, there will be votes in both towns, and throughout the canton (administrative region).

Then there will be a vote in parliament.

All four sets of voters have to support the bid, or that's it, and the IOC will never hear about it.

Would London 2012 have happened if Londoners had been given a vote on it in 2003?

So it was that, in the only venue at the World Economic Forum in Davos that is open to the public, there was a panel discussion about who benefits from major sporting events.

Unpaid job

The venue was a local school hall, the audience was mainly local, including many schoolchildren on their lunch break, and much of the discussion was in German.

Among those there to convince them of the benefits of big sporting events was Swiss President Ueli Maurer.

Also there was Jean-Claude Biver, chief executive of Hublot and the man credited by many with rescuing the Swiss watch industry, who said that, if asked, he would leave Hublot and run the bid without asking for a salary.

"I go from Lausanne to Geneva every day on a motorway built in 1961 for the National Exhibition," he said.

Hublot boss Jean-Claude Biver has offered to run Switzerland's bid for free

"Every day I benefit from this event that took place in 1961."

Jeff Shell, chairman of NBC Universal International, stressed the benefits of the investments in technology that would not happen without the Olympics, such as the multi-screens for choosing between live sports developed by the BBC for London 2012.

"Property and technology built for London will be there for years, just like the motorway," he said.

'Megalomania'

But the chair of the session, a Greek professor from the London Business School, pointed to the Athens Olympics, which he said had bankrupted his country, as well as to Montreal, which took 30 years to pay off the debts of holding the games in 1976.

The Swiss president was keen to cite other examples.

"Look at the Lillehammer games. Twenty years on, Norway wants the games again," he said.

"St Moritz would not be there at all without two Olympic Games."

"The dangerous thing is megalomania - if you think you can afford anything - but there are limited risks here because we are so cautious."

Germany liberated

The panel also discussed the potential boost to a country's image.

Jeff Shell says the Olympics can help produce technological advances in broadcasting

"When Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, the whole world liked Germany all of a sudden," Mr Biver said.

"Germans were proud to hold their flag - they were liberated in a way, and you can't measure the value of these things. I now think the English are even nicer than I thought before."

But Mr Shell was more sceptical about long-term value to a society.

"Everyone wants to think the good feelings will last for years but I think these feelings are harder to sustain than people think," he said.

"I'm also sceptical about whether the Swiss really love the Germans now."

The Swiss president said his country's image could do with a makeover.

"We are constantly being attacked - we are the villains of Europe because of our banks," he said.

"The Olympic Games are an opportunity to regain our good image."

Was the audience convinced? Do they want the games? Unusually, we'll find out in advance, long before the IOC is asked its opinion.

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