The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Monday downplayed any concerns over Sunday’s failed referendum in Austria that ended Innsbruck’s fledgling 2026 Olympic Winter Games bid.
“The IOC shares the disappointment for the Austrian Olympic Committee, the many supporting athletes and the promoters of the project who worked on it with so much energy and commitment,” an IOC statement said.
With 53.35 percent in the Tyrol region voting against the project and over two-thirds rejecting it in Innsbruck, efforts by the IOC to reverse the trend of public disapproval of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Europe seem to be failing. In recent months the IOC has reformed the bid process to make hosting the Games more affordable and sustainable.
“This would have been a solid foundation to develop an excellent candidature for sustainable Olympic Winter Games.,” the statement continued.
“The IOC will continue its exploratory talks with interested National Olympic Committees and cities from America, Asia and Europe within the framework of its new candidature process. We are certain that an excellent host city for the Olympic Winter Games 2026 will emerge from this process.”
But options seem to be running out for the IOC, with Sion in Switzerland and Stockholm still trying to garner national support for their bids even before they would have to face a referendum of their own. Recent European referendums over hosting the Games have all been lost including Hamburg for 2024 and Krakow, Munich and Davos for 2022.
Calgary in Canada is also considering a bid but has yet to receive City Council approval, and interest exists from Asia including Sapporo in Japan and Almaty in Kazakhstan – though both latter cities would represent a third consecutive Winter Games on the unlikely continent.
A U.S. city could be proposed for 2026, but with Los Angeles already chosen to host the 2028 Summer Games, that option may be seen as a last resort.
But the IOC appears, on the surface, to be unfazed saying “we are certain that an excellent host city for the Olympic Winter Games 2026 will emerge from this process.”
St. Lucia’s IOC Member Richard Peterkin lamented the Innsbruck loss on Twitter explaining “Either way, it’s a setback for the Olympic Games. Not unsurmountable, and somewhat understandable, but new initiatives and responses to issues affecting public unease and displeasure with sports organizations (doping, corruption) need urgent closure.”
Recent charges of bribery and corruption against Rio 2016 Chair Carlos Nuzman and other officials of the organizing committee, along with the ongoing Russian doping scandal have diminished public perception of the integrity of the IOC and those associated with the organization. On Sunday Perterkin urged quick resolution of these issues in order for the Olympic Movement to move forward.
He also hinted that a dual award for the Winter Games may be possible – the same strategy used in September to lock in Paris and Los Angeles for the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games after three other cities were forced to exit the race.
He said “Dual award now looking possible for 2026 if two strong bids remain in the running. It worked once, and could work again. Horses for courses in these troubled times.”
On Monday he added “In reacting to the Innsbruck referendum, important to remember that rejection is not specific to IOC or Olympic movement. Other causes – fiscal concerns, fear of increased taxes, anti-establishment emotions, security concerns, disruption of traditional and customary lives & objections to large multi-sport events in general. Fears and objections are often irrational and fomented by populists and fake news.”
Meanwhile Calgary’s bid is at risk Monday as the city holds municipal elections. Incumbent Mayor Naheed Nenshi along with poll-leading candidate Bill Smith support the bid if it makes financial sense, but others candidates oppose the plans. It could come down to a vote by the City Councillors that are elected.
Applications to host the Games are due into the IOC March 31 and the final election is set to take place in Milan, Italy in September 2019.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.