Go south: why New Zealand and Australia should bid to host the Winter Olympics | Bret Harris

Studies have shown an ANZ Games would be feasible. It’s time to dust off those reports

Australia’s medal haul of two silver and one bronze in Pyeongchang equalled their best ever Winter Olympics tally. For a nation that has competed in every Winter Olympics since 1936, with the exception of just one edition in 1948, it could have been better, but it could have been worse.

Either way, it’s probably fair to say Australia is not best-known for its cold-weather sports. Yet that should not present a barrier to hosting a Winter Games, perhaps in concert with New Zealand, and bringing the event to the southern hemisphere for the first time.

The five interlaced rings on the Olympic flag represent the five continents of the world, but the Winter Olympics has only been hosted on three continents by just 12 countries – the US (four times), France (three), Austria (twice), Canada (twice), Japan (twice), Italy (twice), Norway (twice), Switzerland (twice), Germany, Yugoslavia, Russia and currently South Korea. No southern hemisphere country has even bid to host the Winter Games. That is at odds with the global values of Olympism.

Australia may be a sunburnt country and is the flattest continent on Earth, but there is no reason why it can’t hold events such as ice hockey, figure skating, curling and speed skating. New Zealand’s Southern Alps, comparable to Alpine regions in Europe, provide world class options for the skiing events.

There have been studies showing an Australasian Winter Olympics would be feasible. It is time to take those reports out of the desk drawer and dust them off. Australia has the population to make the Games commercially viable, while New Zealand has world class skiing and snowboarding facilities. It is a winning combination.

The vast majority of Olympic Games, both summer and winter, have been hosted by one country, but there are precedents for the event not to be held entirely in one country. The 1920 summer Games were co-hosted by Antwerp and Ostend in Belgium and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, while the equestrian events of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics were held in Stockholm, Sweden, because of quarantine regulations.

It is a costly exercise to bid for the Olympics, let alone host the Games, but the benefits, both commercial and sporting, are potentially enormous. Hosting the Winter Games would be a tremendous fillip for winter sports in Australia, which are really the poor relations of sport in this country. If Australia wants to develop more athletes such as Olympic gold medal-winning snowboarder Torah Bright, it should look seriously as finding a way to host the Winter Games.

The Olympics would provide extra incentive for aspiring athletes and potentially create a future fund to help support and prepare athletes. The upgrading of facilities would provide more opportunities for Australian winter sports athletes to train at home and perhaps attract more international competition.

Australians have cheered their Olympic heroes from Edwin Flack to Scotty James wherever they have competed but there is something special about Australians who have won Olympic gold on home soil. The images of Betty Cuthbert and Cathy Freeman will last forever. Australia’s winter sportsmen and women deserve the opportunity to compete in a home Olympics just as much.

The legacies of the Melbourne and Sydney Games are still being felt today. Winter sports in this country should not be denied a similar inheritance.

A cold-weather-dependent event, the Winter Olympics is held in February, which is at the height of summer in the southern hemisphere but there is no reason the Games could be not be moved to July if they were held in the southern hemisphere.

With a favourable time zone, the PyeongChang Games have been a ratings winner for broadcaster Channel Seven, which proves Australians have an appetite for the spectacle. For the Winter Olympics to be a truly global event it has to come south where the Anzac spirit could add a new ethos to the Games.


Bret Harris

The GuardianTramp

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