The Olympics can be bad publicity

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Hosting the Olympics can negatively impact upon the image of the country concerned, according to a Norwegian School of Management (BI) study.

The September study reveals that viewers of the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics got a bad impression of Italians. 

The findings contradict the widely-held belief that the positive effects of international attention on the host city and country outweigh the staggering costs of organising an Olympic Games, which are only partially covered by ticket sales, television rights and advertising income.

The study aimed to find out whether the Torino Winter Olympics helped change Norwegian students’ impressions of Italy. The results, published in Norway’s popular science magazine Magma, indicate that those who watched most of the television broadcasts ended up with a less favourable impression of Italian people as a result of the event, while there was no change in attitude among participants who did not watch much of the coverage.

The negative shift of opinion was towards people and not Italian society. The study offers several explanations, such as negative press concerning the logistics of the games, the failure of the Torino Olympics to live up to its slogan “Passion lives here” and even the disappointing Norwegian performance.

The study comes as Norway bids to hold the 2018 Winter Olympics in Tromsø, where the general consensus is that the huge positive impact of the Games will justify the government’s investment of nearly NOK 18 billion.

The uncertain marketing effect led Geir Gripsrud, co-author of the study, to argue that the Tromsø Olympics was a “high risk project”.

“Overall there are good reasons to question whether a sensible decision-maker should stake several billion kroner on organising the Olympics if economic development and promoting of the country are the essential issues,” Gripsrud concludes.

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