The Lausanne Decision (Akenfelds on the Issues)

This week, Australian-born Latvian citizen Kris Akenfelds is back for another edition of his "Akenfelds on the Issues" column. Do you remember how we reported about about that Australian guy who flew from Cambodia to Tokyo, Japan to attend the Latvian Embassy in Tokyo so he could vote in the Saeima Elections? That was him, and he's here this week to discuss the possibility of the Winter Olympics happening here in Sigulda. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Latvia Weekly's.

In a few months from now, Latvians will be celebrating the midsummer festival of Jāņi, which is a big day on the Latvian social and cultural calendar. Though many will be feeling fatigued from the Līgo revelries of the night before, there’s something else coming up on that day that may add a little extra sparkle to everybody’s life. 

For on Monday 24th June, 2019, in the beautiful French-speaking city of Lausanne, Switzerland, a decision will be handed down that has the potential to have striking implications for all of Latvia. Until that decision is handed down by the powerbrokers in Château de Vidy, the question remains: Who will host the 2026 Winter Olympics? 

Right now, there are only two contenders left who are vying for the coveted opportunity to host the Winter Olympics scheduled for the 6th to 22nd of February, 2026: Milan–Cortina d'Ampezzo is one. The other is Stockholm–Åre. Everybody else has pulled out. 

If the International Olympic Committed does the right thing and hands the baton to Stockholm–Åre, then the bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton events will be held in the wonderful Latvian city of Sigulda.

What’s not to love? 

One might ask if the Swedes should be ordained to host the 2026 Winter Olympics? Oh, come on! Of course they should! The Winter Olympics were held in Turin as recently as 2006 and Cortina-d’Ampezzo hosted the event back in 1956. Italy has had the Winter Olympics in their backyard twice since the competition was first inaugurated back in 1924 in Chamonix, France. In short, the Italians have had a fair crack of the whip. Sweden, on the other hand, has never been given a chance to play host to this inspiring winter spectacular. It’s about time they were given a go. 

There is talk that a successful Swedish bid will be "self-funding."  In December last year, Sweden’s largest morning newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, published an open letter by some of Sweden’s top business leaders, including the chairman of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, Urban Edenström, and the founder of Spotify, Daniel Ek. The impassioned letter called upon their fellow citizens to support the Stockholm bid for the games. In the letter, they pointed out that of the estimated €1.26 billion operating costs for the games, €870 million will be paid by the International Olympic Committee. The rest of the operating costs could come from private sector interests in things such as ticket sales, merchandising, and sponsorships. 

Mind you, the bid hasn’t even been approved by the IOC yet and already the whinging has started. Two notable political parties in the Stockholm City Council – both well-known for being coteries of boring killjoys – have jointly opposed the Stockholm bid. In a breathtaking display of myopia, they have urged that no taxpayers’ money should be spent on the games. While this writer agrees that hosting an Olympics should not send the taxpayer broke, the two “antis” have to realise that a successful event on Swedish soil will result in a lot of business being transacted and that, in turn, will result in a lot of tax revenue for the government. Surely it wouldn’t hurt the council to drop just a little bit of cash on an event that would bring so many opportunities to enterprising Swedish nationals? 

If the Stockholm bid is successful, one would certainly hope that no politicians from the two “anti” parties participate in any photo opportunities when the time comes. There’s nothing worse than photos of boring people serving time in the Fun Police. Interestingly enough, if the bid by Stockholm does get a green light, it will become only the second city in the world after Beijing to have hosted both a Summer and Winter Olympics event. That, in itself, is worthy of a photo opportunity. 

But forget about all that. The thing that really matters for Latvians is this amazing prospect of three of the most exciting winter sports to be held at the bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track in Sigulda. It will be so nice for Latvians see the Latvian flag being raised to the tune of “Dievs Svētī Latviju” as the Latvian Olympians take out gold medals in every single event – and for this to be happening on Latvian soil. 

Don’t laugh. There’s some very formidable athletes among the ranks of Latvia’s bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton competitors. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will know that Latvian winter sports athletes on many occasions have excelled in championships all over the world. It would be expected that a successful Stockholm bid will result in a lot of time, effort and financial assistance being directed to those who have what it takes to make Latvians proud. 

But this isn’t just about winning medals. If this goes ahead, the economic opportunities that will be provided to Latvians are manifold. You see, hotel operators are going to make a killing. There won’t be enough hotel rooms in Sigulda alone to accommodate the number of people who will be arriving in the lead-up to the games in 2026. Many people will have to book hotels in cities right across Latvia. Cēsis is going to book out. So will Saulkrasti and Valmiera, and you can bet that demands for hotel accommodation in Rīga will go gangbusters. There won’t be a spare bed anywhere. But that’s not all. People need more than a bed and a roof over their head. Sooner or later, they’re going to be feeling a little hungry and they might even want a drink of water (or something a little stronger). So, this is going to be a boon for restauranteurs, café proprietors, and even supermarkets, to say nothing of licenced venues that can cater to would-be tipplers in Latvia’s finest brews. But, as well all know, food doesn’t come from restaurants, cafés nor supermarkets. It comes from farmers. What a boost for our hard-working people on the land! 

Of course, such an event will not be without its challenges. Public transport will be stretched to the limit, as will private bus companies and car rental firms. Police and paramedics will have their work cut out for them, too. A measure of patience and tolerance will be required on the part of Latvian residents and commuters alike. But, in the end, the rewards will follow. This is not only about making rich Latvians even richer. It will lead to a myriad of job opportunities and development experiences for Latvians in all walks of life, as well as opportunities for small business. It is something to be embraced rather than dreaded. 

Latvia is already facing some systemic changes. By 2026, the Latvian financial and capital markets system will be as clean as a whistle and Latvia will be one of the most respected financial centres in the entire world. By then, the people who are currently identified as oligarchs will either be sitting in jail while making Latvian handicrafts, or living in exile in some non-extradition treaty Third World country. Corruption will be a thing of the past in Latvia. Sophisticated investors will be champing at the bit to purchase their stake in Latvian trade and commerce, thus contributing to its development, employment opportunities, and raising its standard of living. For Latvia to have an opportunity to be part of a Swedish-backed bid to host the most significant winter sporting event in the world would be like sprinkling star dust across the Latvian economy. 

This writer would like to call upon all Latvians to support the Stockholm–Åre bid to host the Winter Olympics of 2026. If it is to be, bringing the bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton events to Sigulda will be a win for the good guys. 

Kristofers Akenfelds is the author of Latvia Weekly’s "Akenfelds on the Issues" column. He holds high hopes for Latvia’s eminence on the world stage, and he hates boring killjoys who want to ruin everybody’s fun.

Make sure to press "subscribe" at the top of the page to know when every new edition of "Akenfelds on the Issues" and other great articles about Latvia will be released, and like us on Facebook for important stories of the day each evening!


  1. I think this will require construction of another track in Latvia, because Olympic tracks these days are longer than the old Soviet track in Sigulda. Obviously this investment will be great for development in northeastern Latvia, especially if Sweden oversees all spending to make sure the Oligarchs don't steal half of the budget like they did at Sochi.

    1. I have heard, anecdotally, that there are tentative plans to upgrade the track in Sigulda. I would also hope that Sweden can assert some influence over capital expenditures in Sigulda. While no nation is perfect, the Swedes are nonetheless highly rated on a global scale for their overall integrity in managing finances. While something of a question mark hovers over Swedbank right now - another subject for another time - it should not detract from assessments that Sweden is a very trustworthy country.


Post a Comment