Lapland town of Salla highlights climate crisis with 2032 Olympics campaign

The race to host the 2032 summer Olympics looks set to be one of the most fiercely contested in history. So when the Lapland town of Salla announced its intention to compete with Jakarta, Istanbul and Seoul-Pyongyang, it was competing against the odds. But the “coldest town in the world” had a secret weapon up its sleeve.

“I’ve never felt warmth before, but I’m sure it’s coming,” said one resident in a promotional video released this week to launch the candidacy. “In 12 years the ice will be gone and this will be a perfect lake,” said another. “I can’t wait for the snow to melt,” said a third, wielding a surfboard. While other cities might have the infrastructure, Salla has the climate crisis.

The official Salla 2032 website, with its logo depicting a melting mountainscape and Olympic rings like pulsing suns, promises a Games like no other; where the Arctic landscape has been replaced by something more suitable to traditional summer activities.

“We liked the idea because we are concerned about climate change and also because we live here in the Arctic circle and we see the changes that are happening,” says the town’s mayor, Erkki Parkkinen, the face of the campaign. “We want the winters to be like they used to be, real winters.”

Right now there’s still enough snow in Lapland to shoot the pristine images that summon up winter in the world’s imagination. But the Arctic is experiencing some of the most radical variations in climate brought on by global heating and the Finnish town of Salla is no exception.

“Winters come later than they did before and weather has become more unpredictable,” Parkkinen said. “Some days we can have -30C and two days later it’s plus some degrees. Changes come more quickly than they used to. In autumn snow comes later. It can be raining, then minus degrees and ice, then the snow and the reindeers cannot get food.” The mascot for Salla 2032 is a heat-exhausted reindeer.

Salla has joined with Fridays for Future to spread the word about their campaign, with Parkkinen enthused by the energy of Greta Thunberg’s activists: “The climate crisis is now and they are good partners in that sort of way.”

The Olympics was also a perfect target. “If you think from the beginning of history, their values are to unify people and nations,” Parkkinen said. “The Olympic movement unites people, it is global and climate change is a problem for all the world.”

A collaboration between the Lapland tourist board and the town, Salla 2032 hopes to win hearts and minds, even if it never actually gets the Games themselves. As yet Parkkinen is yet to submit the requisite paperwork to the International Olympic Committee. “We didn’t submit the bid,” Parkkinen says. “We don’t want to be the best place to host the summer Games.”