Reporting From PyeongChang, South Korea – A high-ranking International Olympic Committee (IOC) official Tuesday denied that discussions with cities interested in bidding for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, including help with communicating the project to the public, amount to a ‘sales pitch’.
IOC Executive Director Christophe Dubi said “When you are bidding for a project which is engaging the entire city and the entire community and the entire country, it is not a sales pitch. It is an intention that expresses what the vision is for something that is immensely important.”
Last week Calgary City Councillor Jeromy Farkas expressed concerns over IOC Vice President Juan Antonio Samaranch’s remarks that the IOC was helping bid cities mold their messages to sell a potential bid to the general public.
“We are very importantly supporting [Calgary] in dealing with their local press,” Samaranch had said during the IOC’s all members session last week, adding “we are very well-equipped to help them explain why this is good to them.”
In Calgary, this was seen as a tactic to sway opinion to the IOC’s interests – and not the city’s.
But Dubi explained “It’s just creating the right conditions for the project to be successful. This is what we do as a business.”
“So far what we hear is that this engagement is very positive.”
Last week the IOC released an initiative “The New Norm”, a series of reforms designed to cut the organizing costs of the Games by introducing new efficiencies based on the study of recent Games.
“The candidate cities anyways will have to, in most cases convince their various levels of governments, local population, so of course they will speak about the ‘new norm.’ But what is really important is that the IOC and the Olympic Family get involved in the debate,” Dubi said.
The IOC has been working to make hosting the Games more attractive after four of six 2022 bids and three of five 2026 bids dropped out after entering the race, mostly due to concerns over costs and risks. Lost referendums continued to be the leading cause of bid failures.
This week a poll released in Switzerland revealed most Swiss do not support a Sion 2026 Winter Games bid. Le Matin Dimanche revealed that 59 per cent of of those surveyed said they were either against or “quite against” the project. Sixteen per cent were “quite in favour,” and 20 per cent were in favour.
Sion is due to hold a referendum over the project in June and last week the bid committee launched a campaign to improve support.
IOC Vice President John Coates said Tuesday “We are very conscious of referenda in some cities and part of the group that Christophe [Dubi] takes in when he’s briefing Calgary and others, people who are experts in communications, and we are providing information to organizing committees so that they lead with a front foot in proposing their bid to city authorities and to the public.”
Valais Sport Minister Frédéric Favre told GamesBids.com that Sion is only in the race due to the IOC’s Agenda 2020 reforms and its promise to allow for affordable and sustainable Games projects.
“If we want to propose the same [compact] model as PyeongChang, people will say ‘no’, because in Sion we have everything for the Olympic Games,” Favre said from House of Switzerland in PyeongChang this week, regarding the referendum.
“You say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of the model of Switzerland to rent the rink, to rent the bobsleigh, to rent the mountain, and so on and not to have infrastructure construction.”
But Favre admits communications with the public is key in winning the referendum and saving the campaign. He said the bid has held, and will continue to hold public consultations, and the IOC has been there to answer questions and help. He’s happy that the IOC, headquartered in Switzerland, is getting involved in it’s ‘home’ bid.
“That is a big job to explain to everybody and a lot of villages [the benefits of the IOC’s new reforms],” Favre said.
“We have less than four months to do that [before the referendum].
He said it’s better for the public to hear from IOC representatives directly so that they can build trust.
Stockholm is another interested city in the 2026 mix. The Swedish city has yet to be backed by the three levels of government but is working to earn their support before next January when the IOC has set a deadline for guarantees.
Bid CEO Richard Brisius told GamesBids.com from Sweden Arena in PyeongChang that he doesn’t believe there is a legal requirement for a referendum over Stockholm’s bid. But there will be a general election in September – and politicians could use the Olympics as a campaign platform.
He believes the IOC is providing the right level of support, and are not interfering with the politicians.
“It’s not like the IOC are involved at all in that, of course they are offering all of their help and service,” Brisius said.
“We clearly don’t want to push the politicians, we are just informing.
“These are smart people, the politicians – they know very well what the’re dealing with, you have to respect them, let them understand what’s at hand and they make their decisions.”
Sapporo in Japan is the fourth interested city in the race, and Graz-Schladming in Austria emerged as a contender last month but too late to be part of an Observers Program at the Games this month. However, the Austrian Olympic Committee (ÖOC) will reportedly endorse the bid ahead of the March 31 deadline.
Officials in Austria don’t believe a referendum will be required, but Austrian sports minister Heinz-Christian Strache said the bid will need the support of the population. Innsbruck in Austria had launched a bid for the same 2026 Games but was forced to withdraw last year after it was defeated by a public vote.
In October the IOC will choose which cities it wishes to move forward with until the final election September 2019 in Milan, Italy.