Lviv 2022: Olympic Hope or Olympic Nope?

  • Lviv 2022: Olympic Hope or Olympic Nope?
  • Lviv 2022: Olympic Hope or Olympic Nope?
  • Lviv 2022: Olympic Hope or Olympic Nope?
  • Lviv 2022: Olympic Hope or Olympic Nope?
  • Lviv 2022: Olympic Hope or Olympic Nope?
  • Lviv 2022: Olympic Hope or Olympic Nope?
Issue 62, November 2013.

Lviv 2022: Olympic Hope or Olympic Nope?

Ukrainian International Olympic Committee (IOC) member and former world pole vaulting champion Sergey Bubka knows something about setting the bar high. So high in fact, that nearly 20 years after setting the current world record, not a single human has even come within 10 cm. So when he announced at the third Ukraine Sports Congress in Kyiv this summer that Ukraine was moving ahead with a bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Lviv and the Carpathian Mountains, it made sense to hear him out. After all, this is a man who has made a career out of (literally) reaching for the sky and making believers out of non-believers. ‘But surely a Ukrainian Olympics too much to hope for?’ one might earnestly ask. Isn’t this the same place that footballer Sol Campbell famously warned not to go to or “you’ll come back in a coffin”? Buoyed by what by all accounts was a wildly successful and popular hosting of the 2012 EUROs, the Ukrainian Olympic Committee has developed an audacious plan to modernize winter sporting facilities in Western Ukraine in preparation for a 2022 Winter Olympic bid. With the host application deadline set for November 14th, Lviv Today looks at the plan to bring the world’s largest winter event to the friendly confines of Western Ukraine.

The Bid: Events in Lviv, Tysovets, Slavske & Volovets

The Government of Ukraine commissioned a feasibility study entitled ‘Olympic Hope – 2022’ which provides a general outline of the planned bid proposal. The study outlines two primary Olympic bases: the ‘Ice Zone’ in Lviv, which proposes to host the hockey, curling, short- and long-track speed skating, freestyle skiing, luge, bobsled, skeleton, and figure skating events as well as an Olympic and Media Village; and the ‘Snow Zone’, 140 km away in the Carpathian Mountain resorts of Tysovets and Slavske, that would host ski jumping, Nordic combined, biathlon, alpine skiing, snowboarding, and a second Olympic/Media Village. In addition, the Transcarpathian resort of Volovets would host some alpine skiing events. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies would take place at the new Arena Lviv, recently completed for the 2012 EUROs. It isn’t uncommon for a Winter Olympics host to split events between a host city and a mountain community further away; in 2010 Vancouver shared the hosting with Whistler (124 km away), while both 2014 host Sochi, Russia and 2018 host PyeongChang, South Korea have also split the events between mountain and city clusters. While this all may sound great in theory, the harsh reality is that neither Lviv, nor the old Red Army resort of Tysovets, nor underdeveloped Slavske, has anything approaching world class winter athletics facilities. This is what drives Bubka though, “the Games could be a great way to help develop the region” he argues, “At the moment, there are not many jobs in the west of Ukraine but [this] would help to create a lot of jobs and stop people from the area moving away in order to find work."

The Legacy: Roads, Rail, Hotels & Sporting Facilities

The Lviv organizers did a wonderful job in hosting EURO 2012; however the Winter Olympics provides an altogether different set of challenges. While Lviv hosted over a million fans over the course of a month, the reality is that only three matches were held at one venue over the span of 8 days. The current 2022 bid plan calls for daily events at a minimum of 5 venues over the course of 16 days. In addition, most EURO 2012 fans spent only a few days in the city – to see a match or while passing through to another venue. The demands of hosting additional events and visitors mean that Lviv will need to continue to improve its tourism infrastructure. “This equals 17 World Cups!” says Mykhailo Kostiuk, former  Head of the Lviv Regional State Administration. Ignoring the hyperbole, he does throw out some interesting statistics: 3000 athletes, 2000 security personnel, 6000 journalists, 20,000+ volunteers, 3000 vehicles transporting 5000 passengers every day, 1.6 million tickets sold, a 3 billion worldwide viewing audience – the numbers are impressive. All the more so if you consider that Lviv has not yet built any of the competition venues, the ski resort at Tysovets is an aging Soviet relic, and the road to Mt. Trostian in Slavske can only be traversed by jeep. Moreover, serious improvements would need to be made to improve the road and rail links to Skole and other communities hosting events, as well as to the metro lines in Lviv which currently don’t even run out to Arena Lviv, let alone any of the yet-to-be-built venues. These realities haven’t dampered the enthusiasm of people close to the project though. As Kostiuk is quick to point out, some of the work has already begun.

Rinks, Arenas, More Arenas, and Other Facilities

For example, the new arena expected to host BC Politekhnika-Halychyna broke ground this summer in the Zaliznychny District near Arena Lviv. While the facility is being built to host the 2015 FIBA EuroBasket tournament, Yuriy Maiboroda, Head of the Department for Physical Culture at the Lviv Regional State Administration, envisions it hosting the hockey tournament in 2022 as well. With an expected capacity of up to 10000, this would bring it in line with Russia’s main hockey venue in 2014, the 12000-seat Bolshoy Dome. Of course, the city would also need to construct at least four more ice arena venues (with seats ranging from 6000 to 12000), a bobsled run, a hill for freestyle skiing, and modern accommodations for athletes and media. Additional sporting facilities would need to be built in Tysovets and Volovets, including a new ski jump to replace the cement relic that stands there now.  Kostiuk figures the cost to be €1.4 billion for the Lviv venues with another €1 billion for the Carpathian resorts.

Roads, Rail, Metro, & Hotels

In addition to sporting facilities, transit infrastructure will need to be improved. Actually, this is the area in which Lviv is most well prepared with the investments for EURO 2012. Lviv already has a modern, international airport and over 6400km of Ukrainian roads were either renovated or built for that tournament, including many of the international highways leading to Lviv. The 2022 plan calls for a €1.3 billion investment for the construction and renovation of Carpathian roads and the M-06 Kyiv-Chop highway. This is in addition to the construction of the new double-track, 1.8 km-long tunnel that will replace the current single-track bottleneck Beskid Tunnel on the Lviv-Chop railway.  The project, which began last year, will cost €102.7 million and is being funded by Ukrainian Railways and a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Additional investment will be needed to extend Lviv’s metro to all Olympic venues. As far as hotel infrastructure, the plan cites the need for 22000 additional hotel rooms, including the athlete’s villages, with 15500 needed in Lviv. This is expected to cost another €1 billion, but it is hoped that private investment will cover much of the anticipated cost. Overall, according to Kostiuk’s preliminary estimates, the cost of bringing the Winter Olympics to Lviv, including investments in infrastructure, energy, telecommunications, the medical sector, security, and all the rest, will be nearly €8 billion.

The Context: Tourism & Development

So why is the Ukrainian government and business elite considering this massive investment? Major sporting events, like the EUROs, EuroBasket, and the Olympics, can bring a myriad of benefits to a host, including increased labour, investment, and tourism. The primary concern, of course, is return on investment. The pre-EURO 2012 assessment expected Ukraine to spend €18 million on its hosting of the tournament, with fully 72% dedicated for infrastructure such as roads, rail, airports, and hotels. In addition it was expected that this would generate €25 million in tourism revenue from 2013-15, a major boost to a sector that had declined by almost 50% from 2003-06. While it may be too early to tell whether Ukraine experienced a financial boon due to its hosting of EURO 2012, other examples are worth noting. When the municipal government of Los Angeles, USA announced that it had made a profit €145 million after hosting the 1984 Summer Olympics, it demonstrated just how lucrative hosting a major sporting event can be. Perhaps the finest example, 1992 Summer Olympic host Barcelona, Spain, used the €8 billion investment to transform the city from an industrial hub to a major tourism destination. In fact, the transformation was so successful that Barcelona is now the 4th-most visited city in Europe after London, Paris, & Rome. This is a major goal of the 2022 plan: to turn Lviv and the Carpathian mountains into a prime Eastern European tourism destination.

2022 – Establishment or Emerging Host?

It is in this context that Lviv finds its ambitious bid to land the 2022 Winter Olympics. Although final applications aren’t due until November 14th, the field looks to include up to six cities that fall into two broad categories: establishment cities that have already hosted an Olympic Games (Munich, Oslo, & Stockholm) and emerging cities aiming to leverage their growth with the economic impact of becoming an Olympic host (Almaty, Krakow, & Lviv). This has become somewhat of a trend in recent Olympic bids. For example, Tokyo, Japan, host of the 1964 Olympics, recently defeated emerging contender Istanbul, Turkey for the 2020 Summer Olympics. That the IOC decided to make the ‘safe play’, as the Tokyo bid designated itself, shouldn’t be looked at as trend-setting. Over the past two decades major sporting events have competed to open up new frontiers in host cities, with such non-traditional hosts as South Africa (2010 World Cup), India (2010 Commonwealth Games), Poland/Ukraine (2012 EUROs), Brazil (2014 World Cup & 2016 Olympics), and Qatar (2022 World Cup) as just a few examples. With the IOC making the safe bet with the cash-cow Summer Olympics in 2020, it serves as plausible that an emerging nation stands a shot at winning the 2022 bid. With that in mind, the real race will be between Almaty, Krakow, and Lviv as to which city is chosen to become a 2022 Olympic ‘Candidate City’ to compete in the final vote the establishment cities.

The Reality: Olympic Hope or Olympic Nope?

While some may insist that the Olympic Games are about sport, and others may argue they’re about politics, surely one can agree that the Olympics have always been about improving the allure of the host city. The Lviv bid to host the 2022 Games should not be looked at as a cheap publicity stunt, designed to generate interest in the Lviv region’s winter sports potential. The bid has a solid foundation upon which to build, a successful recent track record in hosting major events, and the united enthusiasm of Ukraine’s political and sporting elite. Indeed, the Ukrainian NOC has already signed agreements with six major Ukrainian companies (MTC, Bosco, Samsung, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and P&G) to sponsor the Olympic team and all NOC activities including the 2022 bid. Further, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy has stated that Lviv expects to receive nearly €3 billion from the national government. Besides the already committed support of business and government, there seems to be a real appetite for a Lviv Olympic Games among the Ukrainian population itself. According to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 78% of Ukrainians welcome the idea, with Leopolitans 81% in favour. If these numbers stand up, they will be sure to contrast the relatively lukewarm support of other hosts. For example, just 55.1% of Oslo citizens voted in favour of their Olympic bid in a September referendum.

Olympic ‘Nope’: Infrastructure

One word can sum up the major challenge to Lviv’s bid for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games: infrastructure. With virtually no world class winter sporting facilities in the region, and inadequate transit and accommodations infrastructure, the Lviv bid begins nearly from scratch. This doesn’t daunt organizers though. “There is more than enough time,” says Bubka as he notes that it generally takes about 7 years for a city to prepare for the event, “Plenty of previous host countries have begun from scratch and we will do the same.” He makes a strong argument; Sochi has been labelled ‘the world’s largest construction zone’ due to the complete retrofit the Russian government gave the resort in preparation for the 2014 games. More importantly, Krakow and Almaty will be in a similar position with the need to build or renovate most of the Olympic infrastructure.

Olympic ‘Hope’: Magical Lviv & the Majestic Carpathian Mountains

Lviv is already an established tourist gem, regularly winning recognition as one of the top travel destinations in Europe. Whether it’s the arousing smell of a freshly-brewed coffee at one of Lviv’s outdoor cafés that dot our quaint, cobblestone roads; or it’s a mouth-watering beer in the shadow of one of Lviv’s UNESCO-protected historic buildings; or maybe it’s the romantic allure of an arm-in-arm couple walking along one of Lviv’s beautiful urban parks; but it becomes easy to envision the city as an ideal place for the Olympic community to congregate. Yet €8 billion represents a very substantial investment in the tourism and sporting infrastructure of Lviv and the Carpathian mountains. It is hoped that this investment will be able to transform the region into one of the leading ski and winter resort areas in all of Eastern Europe; that Lviv and the Carpathian resorts of Tysovets and Slavske can form a formidable tourism partnership that will reap the economic rewards for generations to come. The first step was to announce its interest by the November 14th deadline. The next step, to be announced in July 2014, is to pass the applicant phase and become a ‘Candidate City’. “This is a historic moment for sport in Ukraine,” explains Bubka, whose influential position in the IOC is likely to provide additional support for Lviv to reach the ‘Candidate City’ category. That front-running Munich has new IOC President, and former German IOC member Thomas Bach, in their corner doesn’t faze the ever-confident Bubka. “We have the resources and the support of the nation – we must now move forward.” For Bubka, a man that has built his entire life around setting his sights higher than anyone thought attainable, ‘Nope’ isn’t a word in his vocabulary. There is one more Olympic glory this legend has yet to attain: and it’s his Olympic Hope for 2022.