Opposition and internal strife put Barcelona 2030 Winter Olympic bid on thin ice

The Barcelona and Pyrenees bid to host the 2030 Olympic Winter Games has until this Friday (May 20) to resolve its differences, Spanish Olympic Committee (COE) President Alejandro Blanco imposed if his quest to host the major quadrennial sport event is to be successful.

Up to 2,000 people demonstrate against Pyrenees-Barcelona 2030 Olympic Winter Games bid in Puigcerdà, Spain May 15, 2022 (Photo: Twitter/@bernatpirineus)
Up to 2,000 people demonstrate against Pyrenees-Barcelona 2030 Olympic Winter Games bid in Puigcerdà, Spain May 15, 2022 (Photo: Twitter/@bernatpirineus)

Jurisdictional leaders within the regional bid in Spain have been at odds, bickering over venue distribution and control of the organization of the proposed Games, even as thousands gathered in Northern Catalonia this weekend to protest hosting the Olympics altogether with a binding referendum scheduled July 24.

Original plans had set ceremonies and most ice events in Barcelona with snow events spread across both the Catalan and Aragonese Pyrenees, but Aragón president Javier Lambán has complained that his region wasn’t getting its fair share of competitions.

“Almost everything is located in the Catalan Pyrenees, our competitors in snow tourism”, Lambán said, according to El Pais.  

The disparity led to an Aragón boycott of a planned technical meeting last month.

Aragón officials are looking to host the marquee alpine skiing events, or at least some of them – perhaps dividing the men’s and women’s events so that Aragonese can share some of the branding.  But in the view of bid organizers, splitting the events between the two regions will weaken the proposal and ruin the chances of winning the bid.

Local businesses are urging the Aragón government to make concessions and move forward to keep the candidacy alive, but Aragón Minister for Education, Culture and Sports Felipe Faci has insisted on his plan to “share the most representative tests and not keep the marginal ones.”

Catalan Winter Sports Federation (FCEH) President David Samper has balked at Faci’s complaints, maintaining that his side already made concessions to form an earlier agreement, and further modification shouldn’t be considered.  Samper said if Aragonese is unhappy with current plans, Catalonia can move forward with the bid on its own, already having the needed venues and capacity.

But in that case, Samper admitted, the proposal to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would not be the winner that is currently on the table.

While Blanco hasn’t been clear on the consequences of missing the May 20 deadline, he told Mundo Deportivo that his bid is already losing ground to international competitors.  In April an IOC technical team toured proposed venues in Utah as part of a Salt Lake City bid, and earlier this month the same group toured Vancouver-area venues in British Columbia that are being studied for a possible Canadian bid.  The team will visit Hokkaido province in Japan late this month to examine facilities considered for a Sapporo bid.

A scheduled mid-May visit to Spain was called off by the COE due to the ongoing internal dispute.

Blanco maintains “We have a good chance of winning if we are able to solve our problems.”

He told EFE that he needs to be able to give IOC President Thomas Bach a good report about the bid when he visits Madrid June 1, alluding that without progress plans may need to shift to a 2034 bid instead

Meanwhile thousands took to the streets in the northern Catalan community of Puigcerdà Sunday to protest the Olympic bid ahead of a July 24 binding referendum over the project.  Waving banners with the words “For a living Pyrenees, stop the Olympic Games” demonstrators claim that organizing a Games during the climate crisis is irresponsible.

Organizers Stop JJOO (Stop the Olympic Games) believe that amid global warming, the snow sports industry in the Pyrenees has a limited future.  The group explains that focusing on preparations for an Olympic Games over the next seven years will take the region along a poor economic path resulting in low paying tourism jobs for young people and a questionable future with an obsolete industry beyond the Games.

Local police estimated 2,000 people took part in the event where organizers asked government officials to withdraw the bid and cancel the referendum or residents will flood the ballot boxes with an overwhelming rejection.  On Twitter, organizers claim as many as 5,000 people sang and chanted as they marched along the street.

The IOC has no set timetable for the election of an Olympic Games and could announce the selection of one or more preferred candidates at any time.  With technical visits underway and less than eight years until the opening ceremony it is expected that the IOC Future Host Commission will narrow down candidates this year.  A final election could take place as early as the IOC Session planned for Mumbai, India May 30, 2023.

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of 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.

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