No Catalonia-Aragon deal over Olympic bid could see territories compete for hosting rights

Spanish Olympic Committee suggests if talks are unsuccessful it could choose one to go solo

Spanish Olympic Committee's president, Alejandro Blanco, during an event in Barcelona on May 4, 2022 (by Lluís Sibils/Miquel Vera)
Spanish Olympic Committee's president, Alejandro Blanco, during an event in Barcelona on May 4, 2022 (by Lluís Sibils/Miquel Vera) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

May 31, 2022 02:28 PM

Catalonia and Aragon are still at odds over a joint bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics after months of talks.

Despite the Spanish Olympic Committee's (COE) efforts to find consensus, the government of Aragon is still refusing to accept the distribution of events that had originally been agreed between the negotiating teams of both territories.

On Tuesday, COE's president, Alejandro Blanco, committed to continuing the talks but also suggested that if no deal is reached, both Catalonia and its neighbor to the west could end up submitting two separate projects to Spain's Olympic authority, which would choose one as the official bidder for the Games before the International Olympic Committee.

The current desire is to "keep negotiating" and to try to reach an agreement with "all parties" involved, as Blanco said to the media after the meeting in the COE’s headquarters in Madrid.

However, "if the two governments do not reach an agreement, despite them being the ones that should reach one, we open the possibility, following the already existing dialogue with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), of any of the parties involved to present their proposal for the 2030 Winter Olympics and then the COE assembly would choose," the president explained.

This will not be the first time that two territories in Spain will clash to bid to host the event, as Granada and Jaca had already competed for the Winter Olympics, while Seville and Madrid have faced off for the Summer edition.

"What is most important is that we will not stop playing" in the race to host the 2030 Winter Olympic Games, Blanco said. Despite there being no deadlines to present the candidacy, "as soon as it arrives, we will have more possibilities to play."  

If not, "we could find ourselves presenting a bid and then losing to another one," that has had more time to work on it, he added.

Bid origin and evolution

The origin of a potential 2030 Winter Olympics bid stems from a meeting Alejandro Blanco had in 2010 with the then Barcelona mayor Jordi Hereu, who raised the possibility of bringing the Winter Olympics to Barcelona.

Later, Blanco explained, "we started to speak with the Catalan government" about a bid, but did not raise this possibility with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The COE then took the decision to organize "a wider bid," including Aragon, and following an agreement on March 8, 2021, sent an expression of interest in hosting the Games to IOC president Thomas Bach.

From then, a technical commission was set up, including representatives from the governments of Catalonia, Aragon and Spain, and the COE, "as it was a technical - and not political - debate," Blanco pointed out.

Aragon proposed how the snow competitions would be divided between Catalonia and Aragon, which was quickly agreed, while agreement over the ice competitions took longer, over a series of meetings.

Blanco was keen to emphasize that although the Aragonese government rejected the deal, it actually included more events there than in Catalonia.

"The commission only discussed matters from a technical point of view: 54 events in Aragon and 42 in Catalonia, 12 more in Aragon than in Catalonia." Catalonia would welcome 2,608 athletes, with 2,050 in Aragon.

Public consultation with Pyrenees residents

The Catalan government has long planned for a referendum among residents of the Pyrenees so they may have their say on whether their area hosts such a massive global event. Authorities have said that this public consultation will be binding, and that if they reject it, the government would no longer pursue hosting the Games. 

This week, the vote on the 2030 Winter Olympics bid that was scheduled for July 24 was postponed. According to government sources, they want to have a clear candidacy project before the residents in the Pyrenees can vote on whether they greenlight hosting the competition or not. At this moment, there is no expected date for the vote

A government-funded survey on May 5 found that three out of four residents are in favor of holding the 2030 Winter Olympics.

Despite postponing the referendum, the Catalan government is willing to continue with the voting process. "Let’s have a final candidacy as if not the residents that have to vote would not have all the information to decide, we are keen to close a bid," Catalan presidency minister Laura Vilagrà said during a press conference on Friday morning. 

"We will reactivate the referendum decree once there is a deal and we know which competitions will be held in each place," she added.

Joint candidacy is crucial

One of the most important things to host the 2030 Winter Olympics is cooperation, Catalan authorities had previously maintained. "We have always planned to cooperate with other territories as we never expected to host some competitions," the Catalan presidency minister explained. 

The initial agreement proposed that Catalonia would host alpine skiing, downhill and slalom, freestyle, snowboarding, as well as ice hockey played in Barcelona. Meanwhile, Aragon was proposed to host the biathlon, cross-country skiing, figure skating and speed skating.

The Catalan government then confirmed its support for the deal, but Aragon chose not to. The day after the COE announcement, the president of Aragon, the Socialist Javier Lambán, openly rejected it and said he would counter with a "fair and more balanced" proposal. 

"We are at the disposal of the Spanish Olympic Committee and open to collaborate with other territories and draft a technical proposal that makes sense," she added. 

"Catalonia wants the 2030 Winter Olympics and we do not want to give up on them. We are at a complete loss as to why anyone would deliberately boycott this good project in such an uncompromising position," Vilagrà said referring to Aragon.