Spain’s embattled 2030 Winter Olympics bid will face its first critical milestone July 24 when citizens across nine counties will head to the polls to weigh in on the proposed project. Due to internal political conflicts and regional disparities, the decision signed by Catalan president Pere Aragonès Monday supports two individual votes to be held the same day.
The first referendum, promised by the Catalan government last year to weigh interest in the Olympic bid, will poll residents of six counties across Alt Pirineu and Aran regions that are positioned to host venues related to the Games. The results of this poll will be aggregated across the regions and the final result will be binding according to Catalan minister Laura Vilagrà, meaning that a lack of a majority among about 55,000 eligible voters will result in the cancelation of the bid.
The question, according to El Nacional will be “Should the Catalan government present a bid for the 2030 Olympic and Paralympic Games?”
The second vote will be taken individually in the Ripollès, Solsonès and Berguedà municipalities that could be indirectly impacted by the Games through related events, training facilities and infrastructure upgrades. The question on this ballot will be “Should your county be involved in the 2030 Olympic and Paralympic Games project?” A negative result by 63,000 total eligible voters will mean only that county will be excluded from the Olympic bid project if it moves forward.
The referendum confirmation comes just days after a Spanish Olympic Committee (COE) technical review meeting of the bid project among leadership where Aragon representation was notably absent and the venue distribution was approved. Aragon officials have hoped to host a bulk of the planned snow events in their region and are opposed to current plans that have most events spread out across other areas.
A COE statement released Friday showed an image of the high-level meeting room including COE president Alejandro Blanco across from an empty chair, presumably reserved for the Aragon representative.
“In the meeting the proposal presented, debated and agreed by the Technical Commission was validated,” the statement read.
“We hope and trust that the Government of Aragon will join this proposal.”
In the proposal Catalonia would host ski competitions including alpine, downhill and slalom at the La Molina-Masella ski resort. Snowboarding and freestyle competitions would be staged at Baqueira Beret resort.
Ski mountaineering would take place in Boí Taüll. The ice hockey tournament would play out in Barcelona.
Aragon has been positioned to host biathlon, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating and speed skating.
Referendum plans have drawn criticism from bid opposition groups who are calling out the summertime date of the vote with no online polling options during a period when many local citizens take vacations. They also claim that the relatively small sampling of voters doesn’t properly represent the potential Games impact across the entire region.
Opposition group Stop JJOO spokesperson Bernat Lavaquiol said “It is not acceptable to send people from Pyrenees to vote blindly and in the middle of summer.”
Stop JJOO has highlighted climate change as the main concern over preparing for the Games, fearing that if the Olympics were to come to the region the economy will become more dependent on winter sports tourism at a time when snowfall amounts may not support it. This poor planning, it claims, will jeopardize the future of youth who will be forced to leave to find good jobs elsewhere.
July 24 is the earliest the vote can be legally scheduled according to government officials. It will take place only one day ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Barcelona 1992 Summer Games, certainly a boost for proponents of the project who can rouse support using celebrations that will evoke fond memories of the successful city-changing event.
Later this month International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials have planned to visit Salt Lake City to evaluate its bid for the same 2030 Games. IOC President Thomas Bach last year commended the United States’ bid for its “unity” and strong support with recent polls showing 87 percent across the state backing the bid. The IOC has planned similar visits to Spain and to Sapporo in Japan, another rival with good support and no requirement for a referendum.
Vancouver in Canada is also investigating a possible bid for the Games that would be led by First Nations. A city councilor there is pushing for an October 15 plebiscite for that bid to move forward.
The IOC has no set schedule for the election of the 2030 Winter Games host, but it is believed that a preferred candidate could be singled out late this year with a final decision approved at an IOC Session in Mumbai, India in May or June in 2023.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.