BidWeek, Reporting From Toronto, Canada – Is the International Olympic Committee (IOC) content to host the 2026 edition of its Winter Olympics in Erzurum, Turkey? More on that later.
It’s going to be a rough weekend at the Lausanne headquarters as IOC executives try to take stock of the remains of the 2026 Olympic Winter Games bid, recalibrate, and make some very hard decisions.
This week, in one fell swoop, opponents of the Graz 2026 bid managed to force a risky referendum and put up enough political resistance that the Austrian Olympic Committee (ÖOC) found it so overwhelming, it canceled the bid.
Earlier in the week a poll released in Canada revealed that support in the city for a Calgary bid – the IOC’s other promising candidate – dropped by seven per cent since March, now at 50 per cent. That’s distressing foreshadowing ahead of a November referendum that will determine the fate of the project.
The IOC already went through this drill last month. Switzerland’s bid from Sion lost a difficult referendum in the Movement’s own backyard, resulting in the demise of the two-year-old project. That wasn’t a big surprise as polls predicted the results of the mandatory vote over potential funding, and the bid team had long-recognized the challenges.
But the IOC was ready to set the stage for the remainder of the race and last week released the new Host City Contract, revealing reduced hosting requirements that could shave as much as USD $500 million from the budget. In addition, a USD $925 million cash contribution to the host city’s budget was promised – a record for the Winter Games.
News? Not at all.
Though the IOC press release prompted some local news editors to highlight the $925 million as a new talking point to be featured in a headline – it was simply the regurgitation of an announcement from last September when the IOC promised change for the 2026 process.
And the $500 million savings? I first heard about that last September too, and it was formalized in February at a press conference held in PyeongChang during the Winter Games. The so-called “new norms” are now just – old.
So, besides lots of detail in a 292-page document, nothing was new. No changes.
So what exactly is the IOC doing to get this train back on the tracks?
Here’s where we’re heading:
Next week the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) will name a single candidate from among Cortina d’Ampezzo, Turin and Milan to represent Italy. These bids are already far behind, require government approvals, could face local opposition or perhaps even referendums such as those experienced by their former European rivals. Also, keep in mind that bids by capital Rome to host the Summer Games in both 2020 and 2024 were unceremoniously rejected by politicians.
From this perspective, an Italian 2026 Game seems like a pipe dream.
A bid by Stockholm in Sweden has already been rejected by the Mayor who has said there is no political will to move this project forward, and there seems to be no progress to change the mood. There are fall elections in Sweden, but unless the Swedish Olympic Committee can get the new government to spin a 180 before a January deadline – this bid will dissolve as it did when it was focused on 2022.
Sapporo in Japan remains in the 2026 race for no apparent reason. Japan is already hosting a Summer Games in Tokyo in 2020 and organizers are saying that they’d prefer to wait and bid for the 2030 Games instead when critical rail infrastructure will be delivered to the city. Perhaps, already a partner of the IOC for 2020, Japan’s Olympic Committee is staying on the list as a courtesy.
In Calgary, a battle has erupted between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ forces and the story has yet to be written ahead of the vote later this year. In 2003 nearby Vancouver won a similar plebiscite with 64 per cent support – but that was 2003. the IOC simply cannot bet all of its chips on Calgary.
Then, is the IOC content to host the 2026 edition of its Winter Olympics in Erzurum, Turkey?
This unlikely contender for the Games will require significant development, and lies just north of the volatile Syrian and Iraqi borders. The IOC narrowly escaped major grief when members passed on Istanbul’s bid for the 2020 Games just as social and political upheaval started to destabilize the nation.
So, my guess is ‘no’.
Don’t think it could come to this? Think again.
Four capable European cities dropped out of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games bid – Stockholm, Lviv, Krakow and Oslo – leaving only snowless Beijing to defeat unknown Almaty in Kazakhstan to claim the hosting prize.
Three European bids made early exits from the 2024 Summer Games bid – Hamburg, Rome and Budapest – leading the IOC to award both the 2024 and 2028 Games to Paris and Los Angeles, the only two remaining cities.
The IOC plans to short-list qualified candidates for 2026 at an October all-members Session in Buenos Aires during the Youth Olympics – but it seems the bids are already doing that themselves.
Then bid books are due, with guarantees, in January. By then Calgary may have lost a referendum and Stockholm and Italy may not have the support to continue. Unwilling Sapporo, and Erzurum will be all that remains.
That’s a strong possibility if the IOC does nothing.
But the sharks smell the blood and are already circling, and you can bet they will be spotted and discussed in Lausanne this weekend.
First – Barcelona, and IOC Vice President Juan Antonio Samaranch’s interesting endorsement of the Spanish city’s intention to bid for the Winter Games in 2030 – or *wink*, *wink* – 2026 if the IOC has the need.
Then, there’s the ambiguous involvement of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) in the Winter bid process. The U.S. body submitted an unsolicited letter of interest in hosting the 2030 Games to the IOC before the 2026 deadline closed. That apparently gave them a seat at the table while the 2026 bid plays out.
See, the U.S. can’t officially bid for 2026 because that would infringe on the rights of the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games that have exclusive franchise rights and access to marketing and sponsorship channels ahead of the event.
Speaking of LA 2028, it was the USOC that initiated discussions last year resulting in the IOC’s double-allocation of Paris for the 2024 Games and LA in 2028, when they were the only cities remaining in the race. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti seized the opportunity and negotiated a better deal with the IOC, getting funding to support youth sport initiatives in the city beginning this past January.
With 2002 host Salt Lake City ready-and-willing to host again almost immediately and having state backing and an overwhelming amount of public support according to recent polls, there are further options.
While the USOC has continually and vehemently described its interest in bidding focused solely on 2030, hosting in 2026 has never been ruled out. Could a plan ‘b’ deal involving the IOC, USOC, LA 2028 and Salt Lake City 2026 be in the works even as we speak, and ready to be triggered should the current race collapse?
Surely LA could accept even further concessions for letting SLC butt in front of the line.
The tripartite deal between the IOC, Paris 2024 and LA 2028 had been in the works for months before the news media got a whiff of it, and well before Budapest dropped out of the race to create the opportunity. It seems like a valid modus operandi.
Or, if Sapporo stays in the race and Barcelona is available – how about a SLC 2026 / Sapporo 2030 double allocation? Or Barcelona 2026 / SLC 2030?
These are all good, creative and viable ideas. But first, the IOC must do something. And it must do it in Buenos Aires.
The IOC Executive Board must, for once, take the short-listing process seriously.
They’ll be tempted to accept all cities to continue along the journey until the final host city election in September 2019. They’ll think they need to. That’s how low scoring Beijing and Almaty remained on the list in the 2022 race.
Simply, unless the IOC can seriously imagine the 2026 Winter Games in Erzurum, the Turkish city must be cut from the list. That would free up the options previously mentioned if Calgary, Stockholm and Italy don’t survive.
And a Winter Games double-allocation wouldn’t be such a bad idea either. That would mean the next Winter Games bid for 2034 wouldn’t occur until 2027 – after the IOC can prove, with the 2026 Games, that Agenda 2020 reforms, “New Norm” cost-cutting measures and changes to counter internal corruption are successful and make hosting the Olympics attractive again.
That, of course, is dependent on the success they promise.
Otherwise, it’s all just talk.
IOC – it’s your move.