Don’t expect a party at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, skiing’s top official said Friday, denouncing spectator restrictions at the races and calling for a return to smaller, more familiar venues.
International Ski Federation (FIS) President Gian Franco Kasper, who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was speaking to journalists ahead of the start of the ski World Cup season in Soelden, Austria.
While the Sochi Winter Games will be faultless from a technical point of view, they will bear little resemblance to such fan fiestas as Lillehammer in 1994 or Vancouver in 2010, he said.
“It will hardly be a big party. It’s not the Russian way… and that’s a region that hardly knows sport: they have no ski clubs, no ice hockey teams, nothing,” Kasper said.
“It will be hard to create an atmosphere there.”
The mountain events, such as alpine skiing, snowboarding or biathlon, have been slapped with massive restrictions on the numbers of spectators, which have been more than halved, the FIS chief deplored.
“With the crowd restrictions, the security checks which will be very strict, I have no illusions regarding the atmosphere.”
“We all remember Lillehammer, Sydney, and so on, or London: excellent Games, a lot of fans around. I have a little doubt with regards to Sochi.”
Kasper however defended the IOC’s decision to award the Games to the Black Sea resort, amid calls by gay rights activists to boycott the event due to a new homophobic law in Russia.
“In that case, we couldn’t go to the US either, because of Guantanamo,” he said of the controversial US “war on terror” prison.
“We can’t do that. In every country you’ll find something that I don’t quite agree with.
“We should talk about sports and do sports. We can’t educate a country or we never would have gone to Beijing.”
“We can only accept the local laws… we have to live with that and hope no scandal comes out of it.”
Unlike previous host cities, subtropic Sochi’s Olympic venues were built from scratch for the Winter Games, with Moscow spending more than $50 billion (37 billion euros) on infrastructure improvements.
But Kasper predicted the trend will be a return to smaller venues.
“I think the future will see a return to smaller Games, like (Austria’s 2014 bid) Salzburg or the Swiss bid.
“The Games will disintegrate with all this gigantism: always more, always bigger. They’re no longer manageable, and they will get out of control.”
Organisers will have “no choice but to revert to a sensible scale,” Kasper said.
This was especially true for the winter events, which should remain in small venues, he urged.
“We don’t want Olympic Winter Games in New York City.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]