Cracow, 24 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Formal bids to host the 2006 Winter Olympic Games must be lodged with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne by the end of the month (Aug. 31) and the Polish resort of Zakopane and the Slovak resort of Poprad face stiff competition from sites in Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Finland.
Krzysztof Gorlich, a senior official at the Polish Olympic Strategy Office, says it's time for a Central European country to host the games. "It's a new region -- which is an advantage for us and for Poprad in Slovakia," he says.
Noting that Poland has been a member of the Olympic movement from the beginning of the modern games a century ago, he says the only question is whether the IOC will be "brave enough" to make a decision in favour of Poland.
In Slovakia the mood is upbeat, and the motor trains that run between Poprad and the high-level resorts of Tatranska Lomnica and Stary Smokovec are all decorated with the Slovak Olympic Bid logo.
Slovakia's bid for the 2006 Games marks the second time Slovaks are bidding. The first was in 1984. According to Slovakia's Olympic Games candidacy spokesman Peter Sisak, the Slovaks are committed to trying to host the games until they succeed. Sisak said that Salt Lake City tried for 30 years, before it won the right to host the Winter Games.
But the Slovaks, like the Poles, are facing strong opposition from local environmentalists, who object to extra ski runs and other facilities being placed in nature parks. Also, finding the estimated minimum of $1 billion to finance all the necessary preparations will not be easy.
And apart from anything else, Slovakia's political problems may derail any Olympic ambitions. Next month's parliamentary elections in Slovakia are likely to be watched also by IOC officials, who would doubtless be deterred by any signs of further instability.
The IOC have already sent out inspection teams to tour the candidate resorts, and will make known its decision by June of next year.
A solid early advantage lies with the Swiss town of Sion. Right from alighting at Sion's railway station, a recent visitor was welcomed by posters and banners announcing that the resort is bidding to host the Winter Games. In Sion's Place de la Planta square, there is a special Olympic hut which distributes information about the bid. One can also buy a small Sion Swiss knife with the Olympic logo, a wrist watch, a specially-designed Sion Olympic T-shirt, or jacket or blouse.
"We really have a good feeling for Sion," Jean-Raphael Fontannaz, the press attach for the Sion 2006 Switzerland Bid Committee, told RFE/RL. "We have all the infrastructure. We have not many things to construct. We have a good communications network". he said.
The last time the Olympic Winter Games were organized in Switzerland was in 1948, when St Moritz was the host site. Sion came in second -- after the winner Salt Lake City -- in its attempt to host the Winter Games in 2002.
It is apparent that after losing to the Americans, the Swiss are more determined than ever to host the Games in 2006. Swiss Olympic committee recently announced they will pay the round-trip airfare for athletes traveling to Switzerland from the athletes' home country airport. It is an idea that apparently caught the attention of the Slovaks, who are now proposing a similar pay-for-all airfare to athletes. Poles are hesitant to follow the lead, however.