Is winter sports in a pandemic justified? European countries think very differently about this. Where Germany, Italy and France want to close the ski areas, preferably until January 10, this leads to great anger in Austria. They want the winter sports to continue at all costs and have already stated that skiing is possible at Christmas. Switzerland also wants to keep the slopes open.
The position of the Austrians has everything to do with the economic importance of winter sports for the Alpine country. Tourism there produces 15 percent of the gross domestic product.
According to Minister of Finance Gernot Blümel, every week that winter sports cannot be done means a loss of turnover of 800 million euros. If the start of the winter sports season is postponed, the Austrians demand compensation from the European Union. “If the EU really wants this, they will have to pay,” says Blümel.
The winter sports resort of Ischgl was one of the places where the virus could spread rampant at the beginning of this year. Tourists then took the virus home throughout Europe. Austrian Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger emphasizes that she believes safe winter sports are possible. “You don’t get infected on the slopes, but during the party afterwards. That’s why we have banned après-ski”, Köstinger told Der Spiegel.
According to the minister, enough measures have been taken to prevent the virus from spreading. Gondola lifts have the roofs unscrewed to let air in, there is a limit on the number of people in rows and the distance markers are drawn on the ground for the lifts. And before the start of the season, Austria will massively test the population, including all the hotel and ski lift personnel, according to Köstinger.
German Chancellor Merkel remains skeptical. And she is not alone in this. In Germany, Italy and France, they prefer to see a single line drawn in the European field. Merkel: “We are going to work in Brussels to close all ski areas. Unfortunately, it does not look like that will work now, if you look at the Austrian statements, but we are going to try.”
With a European decision, the countries hope to prevent winter sports enthusiasts from traveling to places where the slopes are still open. Prime Minister Markus Söder of the German state of Bavaria calls on all countries to enjoy winter sports equally on hold “That would be a fine example of European solidarity,” he told the newspaper Bild.
Should the Austrians stick to their position, Italy will even consider closing the borders to avoid “spending the holiday money in Austria and then importing the virus and we’re stuck”. Söder also warns Germans who plan a day trip to Austria that they must be quarantined for ten days when they return.
Incidentally, the EU cannot decide to ban winter sports, also writes the Austrian EU representative Martin Selmayr. A roll call can be made on a common line, but the ski lifts cannot be stopped by Brussels. That remains a matter for national governments.