International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach Friday painted a rosy picture of the 2026 Olympic Winter Games bid race, even as he hinted that there may be some volatility ahead.
While wrapping up the organization’s Executive Board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, Bach boasted about the candidates in line to welcome the world’s athletes in eight years, even after two European bids have exited the race in recent weeks.
“We are not concerned,” Bach said, “because if you look at the world around, which major organizer – not only in sports but in big events – is in the position to have a dialogue to speak with 5 interested countries or cities from around the world?”
“If you look at the numbers of other procedures then you can see why we are pretty happy with the status of this candidature procedure.”
Bach also hinted that there may be very few candidates left on the ballot when IOC members elect a winner in September 2019.
“In Sapporo [Japan] there is a discussion going on whether 2026 is the right moment or if 2030 is the right moment,” referencing the opinion of organizers in that 1972 Winter Games host city that it should wait until new rail infrastructure is delivered before moving forward.
“The advantage of these new procedures is these discussions can happen in a open dialogue,” he added.
Bach failed to mention that discussions are being held in several of the other cities too. In Calgary, Canada – the bid is being put to a vote and a plebiscite has been planned for later this year. Recent polls suggest only 50 per cent in the city are planning to vote ‘yes’.
In Sweden, a bid from Stockholm is trying to lobby government officials for necessary support – but have only heard ‘no’ to date.
In Italy, three bids including Cortina d’Ampezzo, Turin and Milan are still locked in a battle to become the nation’s nominated lead city. Important guarantees and support from local government and the public will need to be collected quickly once they decide within the next two months.
Only Erzurum, a Turkish city considered the least qualified and riskiest proposal, has a clear path to the finish.
In October, the IOC will select a short list of candidates from among the current five – and Bach hinted there could be cuts, even as the initial list of seven applicants has already dwindled to five.
“We have said at the outset of the reforms of this procedure – we need a procedure which is producing less losers than before,” Bach said.
“This means that at the end you have only a limited number of candidates for a special race and that in an ideal world this reduction is happening in cooperation with the relevant candidate cities in our dialogue phase.
“Then in this dialogue also to give them advice whether it’s a good time, whether their plans could be adjusted, to make proposals how to reduce costs, to make proposals on how to use more existing infrastructure, and also to explain and to learn what the benefits are of organizing the Olympic Games.”
He made reference to a decision announced Thursday that only a maximum of two from the four candidates for the 2022 Youth Olympic Games would be added to a final ballot.
“I will not now make the mistake of giving the number [of 2026 cities on the final ballot],” Bach said.
“But we have a very limited number of candidates then to be proposed to the session for election because this again, in line with our reforms, we want the procedure to be less expensive.
“We do not want these cities to have to make to make many presentations where we do not think they can win at the end, so that there is no investment lost.”
Bach first began his “less losers” talking point midway through the 2024 Summer Games race and after two of five applicant cities had dropped from the race and a third was on the brink of collapse. That also coincided with discussions between a Los Angeles 2024 bid and the IOC about a possible double-allocation of both the 2024 and 2028 Games simultaneously.
Los Angeles later accepted concessions from the IOC to host in 2028 while conceding the 2024 Games to Paris in an historic agreement signed last September.
Officials have yet to indicate that a double-allocation for 2026 and 2030 is on the table, but it has not been ruled out either. When asked earlier this year, Bach admitted that it could be considered under the right circumstances.
With Sapporo serious about 2030, and still in the 2026 race, the circumstances seem very right.
Meanwhile, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has made it know, in writing, that it is ready to discuss a 2030 bid right now. Salt Lake City, with venues still available for the 2002 Games and very strong public and government support, is itching to move forward. Other U.S. projects, including in Reno-Tahoe and Denver, are also preparing.
Lillehammer in Norway has also talked about a 2030 bid.
Addressing changes to the bid process, Bach claimed that the applicants are benefiting from Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms, even as weakening public support suggests a different perception.
“We got the report about the five cities. There are some good news because we can see they all really benefit from the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020 due to the New Norm,” Bach said.
“They all stress that they would and could only be interested because of these reforms.
“They are all making real fantastic use of existing facilities that there are no unnecessary constructions being projected.”
Bach said the five projects estimate that 80 per cent of venues required already exist, that’s up from a 60 per cent average between PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022.
He added that the organizing budgets have dropped from an average of USD $2 billion in 2018 and 2022 to $1.7 billion among 2026 bidders. The IOC contribution will hit a Winter Games record high of $925 billion in 2026.
“The candidature procedure is very open and transparent, we make it very transparent at the very beginning before we even speak to cities,” Bach continued.
“We are, I guess, the only sport organizing which is publishing the host city contract, and at full length, not only some pictures but to every detail and then this gives the basis for a strong dialogue.
“A mutual dialogue and partnership, and trying to find the best possible host for 2026.”