Reporting from Falun, Sweden – Following a three hour bus ride from Stockholm to the Swedish town of Falun, International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Director Christophe Dubi claimed the regional venue plan of the Stockholm-Åre 2026 Olympic Winter Games bid will be beneficial for athletes.
“If you ask an athlete commission they will tell you what we want is to be as close as possible to the venues. And in the end, this is what matters, right?” Dubi asked from the Lugnet Nordic Centre where Ski Jump and Nordic Combined will be held if the IOC elects Sweden to host the 2026 Games.
Dubi, and the IOC Evaluation Commission led by Octavian Moriariu, spent much of Thursday visiting the single venue complex in Falun – one of the four clusters in the Games plan.
Ice events are to be staged in Stockholm while Alpine competitions will take place in Åre and Sliding events in Sigulda, Latvia – both requiring air travel to access in reasonable time.
There will be four separate Olympic Villages, each close to the competition venues.
“What you will see here in being in Åre, being here in Falun or Stockholm – you have the athletes close by.” Dubi said when asked by GamesBids.com.
“And that’s what really, really matters.
“And all the others, [the media] and [IOC], yes, we will travel.”
In the past, bids that have proposed a large venue footprint have been criticized for jeopardizing the community spirit enjoyed when most athletes reside in a main Olympic Village with access to the ceremonies and other events.
But Dubi explained “take Sochi, we had three villages. No one complained about the lack of atmosphere, on the contrary this was, from an athletes standpoint, a great experience.”
The IOC has abandoned its old emphasis on compact Games plans that include large construction projects and a physical sports legacy – but often at great cost and risk to the host city.
Through the Olympic Agenda 2020 bid reforms, the focus has shifted to sustainability and a mantra to use available venues where at all possible. Sweden, and rival Bid Milan-Cortina in Italy are planning to use almost 80 percent existing facilities.
Morariu commented Thursday “adapting to the cities is very important and in this respect we believe in having these different clusters – this is the way for Sweden to go on that pathway.”
Indeed the timing, with the introduction of Agenda 2020, may be what is needed to land Sweden its first-ever Winter Games after six previous unsuccessful attempts by the winter sports powerhouse.
Ostersund bid for the 2002 and 1994 Games. Falun was an unsuccessful candidate for the 1992 and 1988 editions and Gothenburg failed to secure the 1984 Winter Olympics. Stockholm was forced to drop its 2022 bid when it lacked government support.
What all six cities had in common was the planned use of a ski resort in remote Åre for the Alpine events. Now, for the first time that town is named in the bid brand and touted as a strength in the plan rather than a liability.
If victorious, it could be the most widespread venue plan ever for the Winter Olympics.
But to make it to the June 24 host city election in Lausanne, Stockholm-Åre must secure the necessary government guarantees that have so far remained elusive. Sweden’s complex coalition government was formed in January after it was hung for months following last year’s indecisive general elections.
The bid failed to deliver the necessary government assurances in time for an original January 11 deadline, a date that was later extended because Italy also failed to deliver. A second set of guarantees for venue use is due into the IOC April 12, and the IOC will also be looking for government promises at that time.
“The [Swedish] government were very positive and heading in the right direction and they know the 12th of April is the date they have to submit all the agreements and guarantees,” Dubi said.
But the Executive Director wasn’t clear on what would happen if that deadline is also missed.
“In the past we’ve worked with bids up until the very last minute because sometimes you receive guarantees which are then checked by our legal people, adaptations are made, back-and-forth, and sometimes you finalize them closer to the actual deadline for the presentation to the IOC members.” he said.
“So until that we will get the bulk of guarantees by 12th of April, same in the case of Italy we will have it all and then it will be the matter of finalizing them, which is normal process.”
Earlier this week Italy’s President pledged to support the Milan-Cortina bid, but fell short of making it official.
“Obviously we are happy that the Italian government has already announced the support,” Moriariu said.
“But it is not an impediment for us at the present, that there is no guarantee from the Swedish government – we still have time.”
Stockholm-Åre bid Chief Richard Brisius said there was no timetable for a report that is expected from the government on the feasibility of hosting the Games, but he said he is working with officials and they are aware of the April deadline.
He remains confident, explaining “I think now is the decision time coming up.”
“They’re working toward it.”
The IOC will spend Friday in meetings with the bid committee discussing plans and details outlined in the bid book that was submitted in January. The week-long visit will wrap up with a press conference on Saturday.
The IOC team is scheduled to visit Italy April 2-6, and will file an evaluation report at the end of May.
GamesBids.com will be reporting from Sweden this week, bringing you on-site coverage of the important Evaluation Commission visit. Follow us on Twitter @GamesBids or on Facebook to keep up with this event.
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.