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Europe

Swiss Give Thumbs Down To Winter Olympic Games

Swiss voters have placed the government in a spot after they rejected a proposal to stage the 2010 Winter Olympics in the capital of Bern in a referendum on Sunday.

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Bern won't be seeing this in 2010

With world attention tuned in to Germany on Sunday for the federal elections, another election just across the German border went largely unnoticed.

While Germany debated its political future, Switzerland in its direct form of democracy grappled with the difficult issue of national pride – its long tradition of hosting the Winter Olympic Games.

No to hosting of Winter Olympics

In a major embarrassment to the Swiss government, voters in the capital of Bern in a national referendum held on Sunday rejected by more than three to one a call by organisers of the 2010 Winter Olympics for funds to host the Games.

The thumbs-down for the Olympic bid comes just weeks after the Swiss capital was selected to be on the final shortlist of candidates for the Games along with Canda’s Vancouver, Austria’s Salzburg and South Korea’s Pyeong Chang.

No Games at home turf of the IOC

The move is particularly damning for Switzerland since the country is home to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) -- based in the town of Lausanne -- and has often had Swiss officials in the highest ranks of the IOC.

The Alpine nation also has a long tradition for winter sports and sent a team to the first Winter Games in 1924 before St Moritz hosted the second Winter Olympics four years later.

The country also narrowly lost out to the Italian city of Turin in a bid to host the 2006 Winter Games.

But voters in Bern remained unmoved by their country’s strong links to winter sports and the IOC.

Among a total of 107,000 people, 77.6 percent voted against a 15 million Swiss franc ($10.1 million) cash call for an Olympic stadium and 78.5 percent voted against authorising 7.5 million francs to prepare for the Games.

Bern citizens disgruntled by economic woes

Swiss media reported that hostility to holding the Games had grown as a result of spiralling debts at Switzerland’s 2002 Expo national exhibition.

Proposed state cuts by Bern state authorities had also ´made the government's case for more money for the Games a sore point among the population.

Though a final decision by Bern's organising committee is not expected to be made before Friday, bid officials are making no bones of the fact that a withdrawal is in the offing.

The thumbs-down has comes as a huge disappointment to the Games organising committee. Dres von Weissenfluh, General Director of the Games committee said that the obvious rejection of the bid can only be interpreted as, "The citizens of Bern do not want the Olympic Games."

A government aide Elisabeth Zölch said in an interview with a Swiss radio station said that innovation, investment and impulses were needed in the Swiss capital of Bern.

"But one could feel that in the past few weeks that the population had become very critical on account of the tense situation of the economy and they did not want to take any risks, even calculable ones," she said.

Yes to retain gold riches and gay rights

Meanwhile in another series of referenda, Swiss voters also decisively decided against a government proposal to use proceeds from the sale of the country’s gold reserves to help needy people at home and abroad.

Billions of dollars have been building up in state coffers since the government decided to sell off reserves no longer needed to support the Swiss franc.

In a further referendum, voters in Zürich overwhelmingly voted for a new law legalising "homosexual marriage", which would give same-sex couples the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples. The law is expected to take effect in 2003 and is hoped to pave the way for a similar law that would be valid for the entire nation.