Seven Cities Officially Join 2026 Olympic Bid Race Before Door Slams Shut

Seven countries are in the running to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made official in an announcement Tuesday.

Graz, along with Schladming, have expressed interest to host 2026 Olympic Winter Games (© Graz Tourismus – Harry Schiffer)

Calgary in Canada, Erzurum in Turkey, Graz in Austria, Milan, Turin and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, Sapporo in Japan, Sion in Switzerland and Stockholm in Sweden have all expressed their interest in writing to the IOC before the March 31 deadline and will now be permitted to continue in the dialogue phase.

Of those Calgary, Turin, Sapporo and Cortina d’Ampezzo have hosted previous Games.

In October the IOC Executive Board will recommend qualified bids to an IOC Session that will invite those cities to continue with the process ending September 2019 with the final election.

“The IOC has turned the page with regard to Olympic candidatures,” IOC President Thomas Bach said.

“Our goal is not just to have a record number of candidates, but ultimately it is to select the best city to stage the best Olympic Winter Games for the best athletes of the world.”

But the pool of 2026 applicants is volatile and it seems unlikely that the IOC will have this many cities to choose from when October rolls around.

At this point in the 2022 Winter Games bid there were six cities in the running, but by the end only Almaty in Kazakhstan and Beijing remained in the race – the latter being awarded the Games.  Four European candidates chose to drop out of the race.  For the recent Summer Games bid five cities reached this stage yet only two remained with Paris being awarded the 2024 Games and Los Angeles sited as the 2028 host.

Display at House of Sion 2026 In PyeongChang during 2018 Winter Games (GamesBids Photo)

Display at House of Sion 2026 In PyeongChang during 2018 Winter Games (GamesBids Photo)

Sion will face a binding regional referendum across Valais on June 10, and with 59 percent of the public opposing the bid according to a recent poll, the project is at risk.  The Swiss bid could face a further hurdle if the Upper House of the Parliament approves a further national referendum that could occur in 2019.

Sion’s sustainable regional plan includes most venues that are already built.  Instead of constructing a new speed-skating oval, organizers are considering using a facility in the Netherlands or another country.  Sion has failed in three bid attempts – in 1976, 2002 and 2006.

Switzerland, home of the IOC headquarters, has hosted the Olympic twice in St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948.  A 2026 Games is estimated to cost CHF 2.4 billion (USD $2.4 billion).

Calgary’s bid has fallen under intense scrutiny by the City Council that will hold a vote to determine the fate of the project in June.  The Canadian bid received funding guarantees from the Federal and Provincial governments last week but leaders in Alberta are calling for a plebiscite, probably in October, before they’ll release all of the funding.  The city council will debate whether to hold such a vote at an April 10 meeting.  The bid will cost CAD $30 million (USD $23.23 million).

Canada hosted the Winter Games in Calgary in 1988 and Vancouver in 2010.  Calgary will leverage some of the legacy for the 1988 Games but are considering the construction of a new arena and ski jump.  Planners are also considering using an arena in provincial capital Edmonton and other facilities used in Whistler for Vancouver 2010.  Early budget estimates costed the Games at CAD $4.6 billion (USD $3.56 billion).

A Graz-Schladming joint bid emerged recently in Austria to replace and earlier bid being organized in Innsbruck that was defeated by a referendum last year.  The Austrian Communist Party is close to collecting the necessary signatures to force a referendum in Graz, but a poll in March showed a small majority favour the project.

Many ice events will be held in Graz with snow events being staged near Schladming.  Sliding competitions would be at Schönau am Königsee and speed skating at Inzell, both in Germany.

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

Bid officials in Austria are expected to deliver a feasibility study in June that could determine whether the project moves forward.

Austria hosted the Winter Games once in Innsbruck in 1964 but has bid several times since with Graz in 2002, Klagenfurt in 2006 and Salzburg in 2010 and 2014.

Stockholm’s has been discussing the 2026 bid for the longest time, but the Swedish city that dropped out of the 2022 race for lack of government support – lacks the same this time around.

The Swedish Olympic Committee has moved the bid forward despite objections from the city’s Mayor who said last year there is “no chance” that the city will approve a bid.  If plans are to solidify, the bid committee will have to win back government support.  Elections set to be held in October could help.

To stay in the race Stockholm would have to submit government endorsements to the IOC by January 2019 or it will need to exit the race again.

Most venues needed for the Games already exist in the region, yet organizers still plan to build an additional Speed-Skating Oval and Nordic Ski venue because the facilities are needed in the sport-obsessed city.

Stockholm hosted the Summer Games in 1912 but Sweden has never hosted a Winter Games despite seven bids since 1984.

Italy ran out of time before it could narrow its choice to a single host city before last month’s deadline, so instead it proposed a joint bid between Milan and Turin, along with Cortina d’Ampezzo and will leave it up to the IOC to determine which city will take the lead.

Politics will take a role too, as Turin officials were hoping the 2006 Olympic host city could use its legacy to host a second Games alone, despite some local public opposition.  However, Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) officials see Milan leading a more nationally inclusive bid with Turin hosting just some events, such as sliding and ski jump, and the possibility of also staging an event in Cortina d’Ampezzo where the 1956 Games were held.

CONI also made it clear that the candidacy is contingent on the support of the government which is currently being formed following recent elections.

Milan, an interested city to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, was also selected to host the IOC Session in 2019.  That will have to change if an Italian City is invited by the IOC to bid.

Erzurum represents Turkey’s first-ever Olympic Winter Games bid and the nation has never hosted any Olympic Games.  Yet the 2026 project has already been endorsed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who last month vowed to do his best to bring the Games to Erzurum.

Erzurum, located in the north-eastern mountainous region of Turkey, hosted the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival (EYOF) last year, and previously the 2011 Winter Universiade.  Along with nearby Erzican and Kars – existing Winter sports infrastructure is available including a ski jump facility.

The region’s close proximity to Syria causing some security and stability issues – and the nation’s limited Winter Sports experience – could raise red flags for the IOC.

Sapporo’s project has been the quietest because Japan is currently organizing the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games.  But the bid that would represent the third-straight Winter Games in Asia is considered a solid choice, and a safety net for the IOC should other reasonable options fail.

Using legacy from Sapporo’s 1972 Games, the bid has a good foundation of venues, however since the sliding track has been dismantled the Luge, Skeleton and Bobsleigh events could be held over 1000 km away in Nagano where the 1998 Games were staged.  Officials are still considering the construction of a new track in Sapporo.

Olympic stakeholders are weary of of awarding sequential Winter Games to the East, away from traditional sites in Europe and North America – but Sapporo could become an option the IOC can’t refuse.

The IOC also confirmed Tuesday that the United States has already indicated its desire and ability to host the Games in 2030, so Sapporo could be a stable stepping-stone back to the West.

Los Angeles’ Mayor Eric Garcetti, where the 2028 Summer Games will be staged, was featured on the IOC press release, he said “It’s no surprise that so many incredible cities have come forward to compete for the Olympic Winter Games in 2026 and 2030,”

“The reforms laid out by Olympic Agenda 2020 created a clean, clear candidature process for Los Angeles, and many cities from around the world will benefit from these reforms as they bid in the coming months.”

Lillehammer in Norway, the nation that topped the medals table in PyeongChang in February, stayed out of the 2026 race but gave strong indications that it will enter the race for 2030.  Almaty, the unlikely city that came just four votes shy of winning the 2022 Games, also passed on 2026 for a possible run at 2030.

More to come…

About Robert Livingstone

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of 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.