On the 25th of last month, together with the elections for the European Parliament, a referendum took place in Krakow that asked citizens whether they wanted to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, among other things. They said ‘no.’
With the tremendous costs of Sochi in mind, spent to glorify Russia’s neo-Stalinist President Putin, one wonders why Krakow would even consider hosting these games? What were the benefits supposed to be?
The 2022 bid would have been Krakow’s second. The first was in 1998, for the 2006 Winter Olympics, which eventually went to Turin.
The recently defunct bid had it origins in March 2010. About a month before the fatal plane crash in Smolensk that killed him, President Lech Kazcyński announced that he would like Poland to be a candidate for the 2022 games.
In 2012, Poland and Slovakia’s National Olympic Committees (NOC), together with Krakow’s city administration, agreed to submit a joint bid. The Polish Parliament supported the bid, under the condition that the national government would only finance infrastructure projects that had already been planned, independently of the games. Any remaining costs, including sports facilities and Olympic villages in Krakow and Zakopane, would need to be financed by Krakow.
It later became clear that earlier estimates for the games did not include several previously planned transport infrastructure projects, and that spending on sports facilities would have been significantly higher than previously planned. To build these facilities, a large park in the city was to be demolished – in the third-most polluted city in Europe.
It is very likely that the higher costs would have increased Krakow’s debt, in exchange for sports facilities that would have been of little use after the games.
It reminds me of the opening of the almost empty Museum of Modern Art in Krakow, which I regarded as an exhibition hall for the benefit of the re-election of the Mayor of Krakow in May 2011.
Information about planned spending was not made publicly available and, before any objections were raised in a wider public debate, Krakow’s authorities commissioned a poll that showed 68 percent in favour of the bid. Just two weeks before the referendum, a nationwide poll showed 31 percent in favour and 58 percent against. On the day, 70 percent voted against the idea. The information gap evident at the beginning of the process had been closed, and people did not like what they had heard.
Not giving precise information about the costs and benefits in advance. The husband of the head of the bid committee apparently negotiating with a journalist for positive coverage of the games. Using inflatable propaganda gates in the streets to ‘guide’ people into supporting the games. Were these evidence of the NOC and the city authorities attempting to profit from the bid?
In the third-most polluted city in Europe, with poor road infrastructure with low quality social care, would the citizens have profited from this bid, or was it only for the inner circle?
It is time for a political change of mind in Krakow.