IT’S NOT necessarily the majority that did not want the Olympic Games, Polish Ambassador to Slovakia Tomasz Chłoń says, adding that in today’s Europe it is somehow easier to mobilise protest voters rather than those who would support such a project. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Chłoń about a referendum in which inhabitants of the Polish city of Krakow said ‘no’ to the bid to organise the Winter Olympic Games in 2022.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): The referendum had a 36 percent turnout with 70 percent of the citizens voting against hosting the Olympics. What was, in your opinion, the main factor in the locals’ opposition to the Olympics?
Tomasz Chłoń (TCH):
The first thing is that it’s not necessarily the majority that didn’t want the Olympic Games. We will not know for sure because referenda or elections are not obligatory in Poland as they are in some of the European states. But I think that in today’s Europe it is somehow easier to mobilise protest voters rather than those who would support the project. Let me draw a parallel to the elections for the European parliament. You cannot explain the low turnout with a single factor in particular in countries where pro-EU sentiments are so strong, as in Poland and Slovakia. If I said that people were not interested in these European elections because they didn’t sense a direct link between their lives and what’s going on in the European parliament, it would be just one of the factors in the explanation. The same if I answered that many people in Krakow genuinely saw the Olympic bid as a waste of money and a recipe for ecological problems. That would also be one part of the story. One could add local politics, a disregard towards opposing views and, as a consequence, mistakes in the public information campaign of the proponents. The last resulted in the very low turnout of the supporters of the project.

The questions asked at the referendum were multiple. While not making a direct link, they indicated, for instance, a choice to be made: whether to spend money on the Olympic Games or to have a metro in the city. This was, I daresay, misleading, because it offered a false choice, namely many of the infrastructure projects especially in transportation will be more difficult to implement without the Olympic Games. So democracy won but people lost, in my opinion.

TSS: How do you view the fact that Poland and Slovakia as a consequence might not hold the winter Olympics? Has the bid been viewed as a substantial issue in Poland?
Legally, it seems, the referendum has an advisory character, which means that theoretically it is not binding for the decision makers, because it was not only Krakow involved, but other localities in Poland and Slovakia, of course. The organising committee is now consulting with all the partners. But let’s assume the outcome is final. In the public domain this issue of the result of the referendum now grows bigger every day because, firstly, the result of the referendum has been overshadowed by the results of the European elections and now the media devote more coverage to it. Also, it grows with the reflection that a similar opportunity for such an event of global dimensions will probably not reoccur in decades.

I personally think that we lost a gigantic chance to move Polish and Slovak relations to a new level. Sport events, as important as they are, with a huge incentive for our – Polish and Slovak – athletes to excel, would be just a part of the story. Another equally historic opportunity would be to develop trans-border tourism, business and people-to-people contacts. Can you imagine those tens of thousands of professionals and volunteers engaged in the preparations and the conduct of the Games and the resulting bonds? And with all the necessary respect [given] to nature.

So again, democracy won, but lost at the same time, because the referendum result was in my view also a sign of distrust in ourselves, our own civic potential; that we can organise the Olympics rationally, transparently and that it’s also our own and not only our central government’s and local officials’ endeavours. It’s a pity.