On Sunday almost fifty-four percent of voters across the Canton of Valais voted against funding CHF100 million (USD $100 million) for a Sion 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid, effectively ending the project that has been in development for almost two years.
In Sion alone, almost 61 percent rejected the funding proposal that they knew would make their city a favourite in the 2026 race. Voter turnout was reported to be 62.5 percent.
The Swiss bid for the Olympic Games could have secured the event in the nation for the first time since St. Moritz in 1948.
The Federal government had already earmarked up to CHF 1 billion towards the CHF 2.4 billion total Games budget, but without Valais support, the project is stopped dead.
Sion’s Mayor Phillipe Varone made clear “This is the end of the project.”
Earlier the Mayor had explained “There is no plan B.”
“We respect the choice of the people of the Canton of Valais,” Sion 2026 President Jürg Stahl said reacting to the results.
“Even though this refusal is painful for all those who worked tirelessly to develop an Olympic Games’ project focused on sustainable development, with a strong social and ethical commitment, fully in line with the IOC’s Agenda 2020.”
State Councillor and Sion 2026 Vice President Frédéric Favre said “We knew, after the two refusals from the Canton of Graubünden and others seen abroad, that this would be a huge challenge. The only fights that are lost are those that were not fought for.”
Sion 2026 now intends to meet with Swiss Olympic “in the coming days” to return its mandate to the national Olympic committee and to dissolve its own organization. It is not yet known whether another Swiss municipality could step in and continue another bid for 2026, but that seems unlikely.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) refused to take blame for the defeat, instead pointing to misinformation for the bid’s demise. In a statement it explained “From the polls, we understand that outdated information on the cost of the Games was the main concern for those voting against the funding.”
“The recent fundamental reforms undertaken by the IOC have unfortunately not been taken into consideration.
“The impact of these reforms is clearly illustrated by the case of the last edition of the Olympic Winter Games, PyeongChang 2018, for which this week a multi-million dollar surplus was announced.
“According to the PyeongChang 2018 Organising Committee, this was only possible thanks to the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020 and close cooperation with the IOC.”
Voters across Europe have voted down several bids in the past decade due to fears that they will be left responsible for massive cost overruns associated with venue and infrastructure construction that often accompanies the organization of the Games.
Innsbruck’s bid in Austria was cancelled last year when over 53 percent voted against the project. For the 2022 Games won by Beijing, voters in Poland’s Krakow rejected their city’s bid and Oslo and Stockholm dropped out due to public opposition.
Last year 60 percent in the Canton of Graubünden rejected a competing domestic Swiss bid, and a 2022 bid by Davos was defeated by a public vote.
A 2024 Summer Games bid by Hamburg in Germany was toppled when voters narrowly rejected the project.
Sochi infamously spent $51 billion building most venues for the 2014 event from scratch, and the Rio 2016 Games were billions over budget and suffered from delays and corruption, reinforcing stakeholder fears that hosting the Games could result in economic ruin.
Canada’s Calgary is due to face a referendum of its own, likely in November, and on Thursday appointed a chair to the new bid corporation (BidCo). Japan’s Sapporo has considered a 2026 bid but could switch to 2030 when critical transport infrastructure will be available.
Stockholm in Sweden and an Italian bid from among Cortina d’Ampezzo, Turin and Milan are still seeking government support. Opponents of an Austrian bid from Graz are petitioning to hold a referendum.
That leaves Turkey’s bid Erzurum that faces security risks from nearby Syria.
The IOC will narrow qualified bids to a shortlist in October and elect the winning city in September 2019.