Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Torino Games provide lessons for B.C.

Prior to being awarded the 2010 Olympics two years ago in Prague, members of the Vancouver bid committee, people in the tourism industry, the business community and government officials talked about the Games being a catalyst.

Prior to being awarded the 2010 Olympics two years ago in Prague, members of the Vancouver bid committee, people in the tourism industry, the business community and government officials talked about the Games being a catalyst. Growth in tourism, improved transportation infrastructure, business investment, global awareness of B.C. were all things that most people would like to see happen. Hosting the 2010 Games would set a deadline and help everyone focus on those goals. The Olympics, it was and is still said, are an opportunity.

Next week will mark two years since Vancouver and Whistler were awarded the 2010 Games, and so far things are going pretty well. Although the big event is still four and a half years away, and many of the big projects are just starting to ramp up, the original rationale for hosting the Games still holds and all the players – which to a greater extent than many realized includes First Nations – are still working together. Sponsorship dollars have already exceeded expectations and parts of the province other than Vancouver and Whistler are starting to see some of the benefits of hosting the Olympics.

The same could not be said in Italy, where Torino will host the 2006 Winter Olympics in less than nine months. A recent poll in Italy indicated many southern Italians don’t even know the Olympics will be held in their country next February. Part of the problem is that sponsorship money has been less than expected, with two key sponsors bailing out. However, the national agency responsible for stimulating development in southern Italy recently announced it would make up some of the sponsorship shortfall. If nothing else, it should make southern Italians more aware of the Olympics.

Torino organizers are also facing challenges that may yet confront VANOC. Italy is officially in a recession, and the economies of most western European countries are struggling. Politically, Italy is about as unified as any country that has gone through 59 national governments in 60 years could be. On a regional level, the socialist mayor of Torino doesn’t get on well with the right-wing government of the Piedmont region.

But the 2006 Winter Olympics are going to come together and be a success. The people of Torino and the Piedmont region are organized, industrious and doing everything they can to overcome the rest of the country’s "just-in-time delivery" mentality. The question is whether the region is going to get as much out of the Games as it could.

An all-too brief meeting with officials from the chambers of commerce for Torino and Piedmont revealed that, like B.C. and Vancouver, the city and the region have aspirations of using the Games as a catalyst for creating awareness, developing tourism and stimulating investment.

With the once-giant Fiat car company struggling, and any future car manufacturing likely to be done in countries where labour is cheaper, Torino and Piedmont recognized years ago they need to develop new industries. Tourism was an obvious one. The region has all kinds of assets – the Alps, lakes, the rolling hills of the Langhe that are home to world-famous Barolo and Barbaresco wines and truffles.

The area has been inhabited for literally thousands of years, leaving a rich cultural history. In about 200 BC Hannibal drove his elephants and army through the pass where the alpine and Nordic ski events will be held next February. The Romans built numerous settlements in the region and the remains of royal castles and military outposts from the Middle Ages guard the top of the pass and the entrance to the valley below.

But Piedmont is overlooked by most vacationers, who flock to Tuscany, Umbria, Venice and Rome. There are tens of millions of people living within car driving distance of Torino but like Detroit it is generally thought of as an industrial, unfashionable city, that has become even less important as Fiat’s standing in the car business has dropped. Hosting the Olympics is supposed to help change all that but the effort isn’t as well co-ordinated as it could be. In fact, chamber of commerce officials were impressed, and envious, of how well organized Vancouver and B.C. appear to be to capitalize on the 2010 Games.

If they had a message for Vancouver and Whistler, chamber officials suggested maintaining the team approach to regional promotion may become more difficult as the Games get closer.

The Olympic organizing committee’s mandate is to make sure the Games run smoothly and the Olympic sponsors and the IOC are happy. Promoting the region is someone else’s job. In TOROC’s case, losing a couple of key sponsors so close to the event has meant even more focus on their core tasks. Regional promotion, at this late stage, has become a secondary consideration.

Even when trade missions to promote the wines, chocolate, cheeses and other riches of the slow food movement that was born in Piedmont go abroad their ability to capitalize on the Olympics is muted. TOROC has to protect the integrity of the official Olympic suppliers. Torino’s Café Lavazza can’t be associated with the Olympics because Coca Cola is the official drink supplier. McDonald’s is the only food permitted to be served in Olympic venues.

The 2006 Games will still provide opportunities for the region and the businesses of Torino, but for Vancouver and Whistler there are lessons to be learned in understanding the limitations of the Olympics and co-ordinating efforts within those limitations.