Swiss Olympic Says Sion 2026 Still In Running, But Referendum Probable Next Year

After its financing was rejected in a referendum this weekend, Graubünden’s bid to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games has been withdrawn, Swiss Olympic announced in a statement Sunday.  More than sixty percent in the canton rejected plans to finance the cost of an Olympic bid for the second time since 2013.

Sion, Switzerland could bid to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games (Wikipedia photo)
Sion, Switzerland could bid to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games (Wikipedia photo)

But officials say that the Swiss bid process will continue undeterred.

“Swiss Olympic believes that any project to host an Olympic Games should have the full support of its community, so we fully respect the decision of the voters,” the statement said.

“This referendum was organised by the local authorities in Graubünden, and was not a requirement from Swiss Olympic.

“This decision does not, in any way, modify the national nomination process that we have initiated more than a year ago.  The Olympic ambition is still very strong in Switzerland, as will be shown through a series of studies due to be released on 7th March.”

Switzerland’s quest to nominate a project to bid for the 2026 Games launched last year with five candidate regions but during the campaign one project dropped out and three merged resulting in two projects submitting required documents at the December deadline.  With Graubünden dropping out, only Sion 2026 remains.

“We will now finalise the evaluation of not two, but one project, ‘Sion 2026’,” the statement continued.

“Our main criteria remain the same: we are looking for a project that 1, can have a strong positive impact for our country and 2, has the potential to win an international campaign in 2019.”

If the Swiss Olympic Executive Council approves Sion 2026 to bid on the international stage, the decision would need to be ratified by Swiss Sport Parliament on April 11.

While no referendum is expected for the Sion 2026 project prior to its ratification and nomination, once funding is identified and proposed for the project in 2018 the cantons involved would likely be required to hold votes.  A referendum in Valais, home of lead city Sion, would be taken in October 2018 after the application of the bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) likely to occur earlier that year.

St. Moritz, Switzerland
St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Winning such a referendum would be unusual in Europe where there has been an uninterrupted string of failed votes.  In addition to the Graubünden defeat announced Sunday, Hamburg lost a referendum for the 2024 Games in 2015.  For the 2022 Games there were four lost referendums –  Krakow, Munich, Oslo and again Graubünden being represented by Davos and St. Moritz.  Bern, also in Switzerland, withdrew late in the 2010 Winter Games campaign when it was defeated by a public vote.

Budapest is currently on the brink of facing a referendum over its 2024 bid where over sixty percent are reportedly opposed to the project.

The last Olympic bid referendum won during a campaign was earned by Vancouver’s winning bid for the 2010 Winter Games when nearly two-thirds supported the project.

In 1997, a referendum in Valais was won with 67 per cent support to finance the Sion 2006 Winter Games bid that subsequently lost to Italian city Torino.

Switzerland has hosted the Olympic Winter Games twice in St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948.  Swiss city Lausanne, home of the IOC, will host the Youth Winter Games in 2020.

Should Sion overcome its hurdles it could face international competition from 2022 runner-up Almaty in Kazakhstan, Calgary, Innsbruck and Sapporo.  The IOC will vote for the winner in 2019.

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.

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