Munich's would-be 2018 fairy tale

MUNICH -- Five years ago, Germany played host to a great soccer World Cup. Everything worked; after all, this is Germany. Beyond that, for a month, this nation, capable of such melancholy, came alive with optimism and hope. Just a couple months later, a movie debuted that captured that summer's spirit. The movie, from director and producer Sönke Wortmann, is called Deutschland, Ein Sommermärchen -- "Germany, A Summer's Dream."

The movie instantly became a huge hit. It remains a knowing cultural reference, one that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, used here in briefing the press moments before greeting the members of the International Olympic Committee's 2018 Winter Games evaluation commission.

Referring specifically to the "summer fairy tale," the chancellor -- speaking through a translator -- said she believed Munich's bid for the 2018 Games had a "great chance to plan a winter fairy tale," adding, " I believe that since Germany is such a fantastic host, the world can look forward to the Games here in 2018."


The challenge now for Munich, as the IOC commission on Friday wrapped up its month-long tour to the three cities in the 2018 derby, is quite simple. As everyone knows, fairy tales rarely come true.

Just ask that 2006 German soccer team. It finished third.

The IOC is due to pick the 2018 site in a vote on July 6; Annecy, France, and Pyeongchang, South Korea, are now in the race.

There is, to be sure, much for supporters to tout in this Munich bid.

For starters, it's Germany. Things do work here, and work incredibly well.

They proved that with the logistics that made the soccer tournament move in 2006. And again with the track and field world championships in Berlin in 2009. And again just last month with the alpine skiing world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, an hour south of here in the Bavarian Alps, where the skiing events would be held if Munich wins in 2018.


Merkel and the German government at all levels are wholeheartedly behind the bid. For all the blather about landowner and farmer opposition -- there were three lonely protestors standing roadside at one would-be venue here this week. Three protestors isn't even a card game.


German financial support underpins winter sports -- that is, worldwide. Moreover, German fans have proven time and again they are crazy for winter sports. But Germany hasn't had the privilege of staging the Winter Games since 1936, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

If Munich were to win, it would be the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter Games.


The IOC -- at least until it went for Sochi in 2014 -- has had an affinity in recent years for Winter Games in big cities. See, for instance, Salt Lake (2002), Torino (2006), Vancouver (2010).

Munich not only fits that pattern -- it arguably might be the best of that pattern. It's an easy hour from Gapa, as the ski area is colloquially known, back down to the city.

This week, the IOC could have checked out the poetry slam at the BMW museum; the Bayern Munich soccer game; or, immediately outside their hotel, a funky shrine to pop star Michael Jackson. Or dozens and dozens of world-class restaurants and interesting cultural events.

Gunilla Lindberg, the evaluation commission chairwoman, said at a news conference here Friday night that the group "absolutely felt the atmosphere and the passion for the Games."

"To put it in a nutshell," Thomas Bach, the German IOC vice president and senior bid leader said at a follow-up press briefing, "this is a bid with no risk but fun."

So why is the Munich bid, which has to date raised 29 million euros, about $40 million, said to be the largest amount ever for a non-American bid, widely perceived to be trailing Pyeongchang, with Annecy a distant third?

While $40 million is indeed a lot of money, this was the news in early January: Samsung Group announced plans to boost investment to a record $38 billion in 2011.

That's not fairy-tale money. That's the real deal, nearly 20 percent of South Korea's gross domestic product.

Samsung is, of course, a leading Olympic sponsor.

If that may yet prove the ultimate factor complicating Munich's drive, there may be others.

The Munich bid is premised on the re-use of many of the iconic venues from the 1972 Summer Games -- re-packaging them, if you will, for Winter Games use.

The gymnastics hall where Olga Korbut tumbled her way to four medals, three of them gold, in 1972? Figure skating and short-track speed skating.

The swim hall where Mark Spitz won a then-record seven gold medals? Curling.

That seems cool, right?

Except that the while the IOC tends to talk a good game about "sustainability," it also in recent years has favored bids with huge construction projects.

Witness the construction booms in Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and, especially now, the forthcoming sequence of Games -- London (2012), Sochi (2014) and Rio (2016).

All these Games will leave concrete evidence, from the IOC's perspective, of the transformative power of sport on society. And in this race, the Koreans are the ones who have built a brand-new winter resort from scratch, just as they promised the IOC they would do -- and they still have more building to do, including a high-speed rail line from Seoul to Pyeongchang.

Indeed, the Munich 2018 bid bears striking similarities to the campaigns that Great Britain and the United States ran for soccer's 2018 and 2022 World Cups -- in essence, come here, use the venues we already have and make a lot of money.

Didn't work. Russia (major infrastructure boom) and Qatar (immense construction project) won going away.

To be sure, the IOC is not FIFA. At the same time, the IOC has itself shown in the votes for Sochi and Rio its own expansionist tendencies. That's why the Korean tagline is "new horizons."

Will the Munich 2018 bid prove the turning point? Or is it, simply put, up against a relentless geopolitical reality in the international sport bidding scene?

Must it contend as well with distinct IOC politics -- in particular the clear intent of other interests to bring the 2020 Summer and 2022 Winter Games back to Europe? And, as well, another complexity -- Bach's presumed run for the IOC presidency in 2013, and how, if at all, that factors into a 2011 campaign for 2018?

Another potential complication: Munich is promoting a "festival of friendship," and in that regard it's unclear how the use of one more iconic venue, Olympic Stadium, will resonate with the IOC members come July 6.

Everyone knows what happened here in 1972. The stadium is where Avery Brundage, the then-IOC president, declared after the Palestinian terror attack and the deaths of 11 Israelis that the Games "must go on."

Speaking Thursday at the stadium to the evaluation commission, Uli Hoeness, the president of Bayern Munich, noted the "echo of history," and said that coming back in 2018 would offer an "extra dimension" that would be "connecting the past to the future."

If Munich wins, Olympic Stadium is where the 2018 opening and closing ceremonies would take place.

Lindberg, speaking Friday, noted that she and two others on the evaluation commission -- New Zealand's Barry Maister and Japan's Tsunekazu Takeda -- were here in 1972, and came back here this week with "mixed feelings," with "sadness at what happened" but fondness for the "good organization of the Games," adding, "The IOC took a decision to go on with the Games and I think that was the right decision."

As her remarks underscore -- it remains, 40 years later, no simple matter.

In large measure, Munich and Germany have undeniably moved on since 1972, confronting challenges such as the end of the Cold War and reunification. The stadium, meanwhile, has been used for countless numbers of events.

Moreover, the World Cup proved unequivocally that Germany could safely play host to a mega-event and show the world a good time. It doesn't need the 2018 Olympics for that purpose, according to Chris Young, co-author of the 2010 book, "The 1972 Munich Olympics and The Making of Modern Germany," who said it follows that the "vibe of the [2018] bid" is thus not "we have a past we have to deal with" but "we can put on a world-class, great show."

At the same time, the last time much of the world last connected the words "Munich" and "Olympic" was 1972. To think that the 2018 bid will not provoke look-back pieces in the international press, particularly as July 6 approaches, would be naïve.

Charlotte Knobloch, the head of the Munich Jewish community, observed, "The Olympic Games of 1972 are, let there be no doubt, especially for Jews, inextricably linked to the attacks of the time. Both from the point of view of drama and of far-reaching impressions, the events were similar to those of 9/11. If now, 36 years later, Olympia were to return to Munich this would certainly not mean that the past has been cut out. Should the Games of 2018 be awarded to Munich, we would, in my mind, connect them also with the Games of 1972 reflecting them. At the same time it is also a matter of showing the world the Munch of today."

Between now and July, the Munich strategy would seem straightforward -- try to seize momentum at the IOC bid-city meeting in mid-May in Lausanne, Switzerland, with Bach leading the way, then build toward the vote.

Asked at the news conference to assess where Munich is now in the race, Bach demurred: "Where we are is difficult to say. We don't want to lead the race all the way. We want to win at the end."