The Valais Cantonal Government Monday launched a campaign to rally support behind Sion’s bid to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. On June 10 next year constituents in Valais will head to the polls to vote in a binding referendum that will determine the fate of the Swiss bid.
The proposal to host the Games, now with a preliminary budget of 2.4 million Swiss francs (USD $2.4 million), includes venues spread across several cantons – including Bern, Fribourg and Vaud, but officials say that the financial risk to those areas are limited.
Valais Sports Minister and Sion 2026 Vice President Frédéric Favre said that the most each canton would need to spend on infrastructure for the Games would be 60 million francs (USD $60 million), according to ATS. Last month the federal government vowed it would contribute 1 billion francs (USD $1 billion) towards the overall budget. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will contribute USD $925 million to the elected host city’s operational costs.
An unscientific survey by Swiss newspaper 20 Minuten revealed 80 per cent were against the federal funding, and there were further fears that the 300 million francs earmarked for security costs is understated, and could rise before the Games.
The early opposition to Sion’s bid underlines the importance of a promotional campaign ahead of the referendum hurdle. Organizers behind Innsbruck’s bid failed to communicate their message when the Austrian city was defeated in a fatal referendum last month. Voters in St. Moritz, Munich and Krakow overturned bids to host the 2022 Winter Games.
A wave of populism across Europe, coupled with the USD $51 billion reportedly spent to organize the Sochi 2014 Games has created toxicity in the Olympic brand when it comes to hosting – and winning a referendum has become a formidable challenge.
In September the IOC launched a reformed bid process and have promised to cut the organizing costs by at least USD $500 million by leveraging a new 200-point Games Management plan with new efficiencies for hosting. Additionally, relaxed venue rules allow bids to site events in existing venues across a wider footprint instead of building new facilities from scratch.
The IOC has said that they will work with prospective bidders to spread a more positive message about the new realities of bidding – a crucial next step in order to win a referendum.
The IOC has much at stake too. With four European cities of six total candidates withdrawing from the 2022 race, only snowless Beijing remained to defeat unlikely Almaty in an unimpressive election. With Innsbruck out for 2026, Sion’s only potential rivals are bids from Calgary in Canada and Stockholm in Sweden that are still seeking government approval; a possible U.S. bid that would be a better fit for 2030; and currently unorganized and unlikely efforts from Sapporo in Japan, Telemark in Norway, Erzurum in Turkey and Almaty in Kazakhstan.
Sion is the only city that has so far committed to submitting an application. If the Swiss city is forced to withdraw after a referendum defeat, it’s possible that no bidders will remain.
The IOC has already begun working with interested cities as part of the dialogue phase of the bid but the final application deadline is set at March 31, 2018. The IOC Executive Board will recommend which candidates move forward next October and the final election will be held September 2019 in Milan, Italy.