An International Olympic Committee member has heated up the talk around the Winter Games by praising dictatorships who don’t need to bother getting the people’s consent to stage the events.
“Everything is easier in dictatorships,” said Gian Franco Kasper, referring to the awarding of the 2022 Winter Olympics to China. The Chinese beat out Almaty, Kazakhstan – another country not known for being particularly democratic – for what will be the first Winter Games held in China.
Speaking to the Swiss newspaper Tagez-Anzeiger, Kasper particularly targeted environmentalists – who typically aren’t allowed much to say under dictatorships – as an obstacle in staging the games.
"From the business side, I say: I just want to go to dictatorships, I do not want to argue with environmentalists," Kasper said.
The press office of the International Olympic Committee distanced the organization from Kasper's remarks. “This is the personal opinion of Gian Franco Kasper, which is not shared by the IOC."
While controversial, Kasper’s remarks might reflect what other Olympics officials have been thinking for some time. The 2014 Winter Olympics were held in Sochi, Russia, a controversial selection because of site’s strong ties to Russian oligarchs tied to President Vladimir Putin.
And the 2018 Winter Olympics were awarded to Pyeongchang, South Kore - but with the aim of drawing in significant involvement of North Korea, another dictatorship. While the North did not host any events at the games, as some had hoped, their high-profile diplomatic presence at the Opening Ceremony was widely hyped by the international media.
While North Korea’s critics and human rights groups decried the country’s glamorized coverage around the game, Kasper and others saw their involvement as a positive.
"The sport can also be a door opener, maybe we made a contribution to the opening of North Korea in Pyeongchang with the united Team Korea," Kasper said.
The IOC press office statement specifically addressed both dealing with dictators and environmentalists in response to Kasper's remarks.
"Sustainability – and climate change in particular – is central to the work of the IOC. The IOC is working with all Organising Committees to help reduce carbon emissions related to the Olympic Games," the statement said.
"As for Mr Kasper’s comments about the Olympic Winter Games and ‘dictators’ – we have just completed the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang which were very successful in every respect, including in sport and in finance, where the organizing committee is showing a surplus of $55 million - and we look forward to choosing between Sweden and Italy for the 2026 edition of the Games.”
The Olympics site selection process has had a troubled history that goes back decades. Before the 2002 Olympic Games, several members of the IOC were accused of taking bribes from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee during the bidding process. The allegations resulted in the expulsion of several IOC members and the adoption of new selection rules.
While Kasper seemed quite comfortable dealing with some dictatorships, he at least drew a line through some countries accused of widespread human rights abuses.
"I do not want to go to a country, invest in skiing there, while the population starves. That's where I draw the red line. If Qatar applied tomorrow for the Olympics, then I am against (their proposal)," Kasper said.
Qatar has been criticized by human rights group who accuse it of exploiting a mostly foreign workforce. Amnesty International said the Gulf state was “falling significantly short” in promised efforts to protect the employment rights of an estimated two million workers.