- In 1978 the International Olympic Committee chose Sarajevo to organize the Games over the Japanese Sapporo and joint candidacy of the two Swedish cities of Falun and Gothenburg. Why was Sarajevo chosen to be the host city?
I am a person who was lucky enough to have been in a group of people who were present from the start of the initiative for the organization of the 14th Olympic Games until the last days of the Games itself. Generally, cities that are in a specific phase of high social and economic and cultural development have a greater chance of being chosen for the Olympic Games. Sarajevo was thriving during the 1970’s, with over 500,000 residents, rapid expansion, significant sporting development and was also the center of Yugoslavia. These factors lead to the idea about the organization of the Winter Olympic Games. Our motive was to fulfill the defined aims which were very important at that time: we were the only organizers of the Olympics that had all the sports activities in a radius of only 23 kilometers.
Sarajevo was known for many things. Firstly the Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games involved competitors from both East and West, which had not been the case before. Sarajevo also represented the first city that connected the world and really contributed to the growth of the Olympics. Secondly, until then, Sarajevo was the biggest city that organized the Olympic Games, and what is most important is that we had clearly defined aims that we wanted to fulfill, one of which being the desire to create material conditions for the development of winter sports, on snow and ice, and to make better conditions for the social life of youths. Finally, with the successful organization of the Winter Olympic Games, we created improved living conditions for young people, emphasizing the development of sports, where you could see whole families going to the mountains etc.
- Why was Sarajevo such a different city before and after the Olympics?
Several years before the Olympics many objects and buildings were constructed, namely all the facilities around the stadiums in Sarajevo, and further facilities on the Trebavic, Igman and Bjelasnica mountains. A new airport, hotels, 2,850 new apartments, 9,500 new workplaces were created in Sarajevo and the value of movable and immovable property amounted to $120 million. Sarajevo became a city of fairs, parties, exhibitions and many kings such as the King of Sweden, Norway, Belgium, were all present in Sarajevo during the Olympics.
What is most important is that Sarajevo gained an image as the Olympic city and no leader or president of any state in the world visited Yugoslavia without visiting Sarajevo.
- These were the first Olympics in which there was no boycott of the eastern or western block, where athletes from the US and the USSR competed together. Can you tell us more about this moment?
A great deal of effort between the Olympic Committee of the USSR and the Olympic Committee of the United States of America was required to ensure that they were both present at the Olympics. There was a small incident just before the opening of the Olympics when the atmosphere was really tense, following the distribution of press cards to 7,899 journalists, among them, accreditation was given to the journalists from “the Voice of America” (VoA). Later on, some claimed that the journalists from the VoA were not citizens of the USA, which was breaking the rules of the International Organizing Committee (IOC) and was a cause to boycott. Following these claims, I explained to them that the accreditations are given by the Commission for informing the International Organizing Committee and not us, so in the end, they decided to participate.
4.Is the Olympic spirit still felt in Sarajevo?
After the Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, I went to almost all the Olympic Games up until now and spoke with people who told me that “these Games are really nicely organized, but we could not feel the atmosphere that was felt in Sarajevo.” To be honest, those days, Sarajevo really did live for every moment of the Olympics. I assume that the spirit that could be felt in Sarajevo at the time of Olympics cannot be felt for a long time again.
I cannot describe that feeling and spirit during the Olympics, people were so enthusiastic and happy about the events. For example, one man brought 1 kilogram of gold and a person owning a very popular nightclub in Sarajevo, brought 6,000 Deutsche Marks.
5. Can you tell us how much the budget was for the organization of the Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo?
When speaking about the financial effect of the Games in Sarajevo, it can be said that the Olympic Games in Sarajevo were the only Games which ended with surplus, all other organizers of Summer and Winter Games ended in deficit or financial obligations that they needed years to repay. We had 142 million dollars as a budget, and what is important to note is that 82.5% of the costs of the Olympics were provided by our private revenues, with the other 17.5% being provided by the state of BiH and city of Sarajevo.
6. What are the problems that Yugoslavia faced while organizing the Olympic Games? Can you enumerate some of them?
I will try not to be pretentious, but we did everything not to have any surprises or problems. We managed to do everything in advance and to make the plan as precise as possible in order to avoid errors. However, especially for the organization of the Winter Olympic Games, weather conditions are a very important factor. For instance, in Sarajevo, there was no snow and then on the night from the 7th to 8th February 70cm fell. We prepared everything in advance, so we did not have any problems with security issues. For instance, we launched an action of donation, where one million people in BiH donated money, their time and everything else. Out of the 2,500 people working for the preparation of the Olympics, less than half of them were actually paid, all others were volunteering. Of course, now it is different. At that time, we negotiated about the TV rights, sponsorships etc., nowadays the Committee is organizer in itself, so it is much easier.
During the Olympics, we did not have any car accidents, we had perfectly organized cleaning services and security was on high alert. China is a well-organized state and does not have any enemies, so it is certain that there will be no accidents, terrorist attacks or any other security threats.
Ahmed Karabegović, as one of the initiators of the idea of organizing the fourteenth Winter Olympic Games, and later as Secretary General of the Organizing Committee, has been directly involved for a decade in writing probably one of the most beautiful stories in the history of our capital – the story of the Sarajevo Olympic Games. Not only was it one of the most beautiful stories, but the first man of the International Olympic Committee said that Sarajevo was the best organizer of the Winter Olympic Games to date.
Interview by Zejna Yesilyurt