Austria’s 2026 Olympic Winter Games bid from Graz and Schladming will face a state-wide referendum in September to determine whether the project will move forward.
The State Parliament considered and approved an emergency request Monday, during its final sitting before the Summer break, to launch a referendum as soon as possible. The development comes just days following the release of a feasibility study that declared an Olympics could be held “without much risk.”
The Austrian Communist Party (KPÖ) has declared that 11,031 valid signatures on a petition have already been collected, more than the 10,000 needed to force a vote, but Parliament has moved forward on its own accord and have pinpointed September 23 as the likely referendum date. The KPÖ says it will continue to collect signatures and further launch a campaign opposing the bid ahead of the vote.
The KPÖ have also taken credit for the decision to put the bid into the hands of taxpayers, according to remarks by councilwoman Elke Kahr and Claudia Klimt-Weithaler at a press conference Monday.
“[The signatures] have apparently caused a change of opinion,” Klimt-Weithaler said.
They said that that party will leverage the petition results to campaign ahead of the upcoming referendum.
But Kahr told ORF that her party would accept the referendum results regardless of the outcome, and that she is not against sport.
She said “If Styria was financially good, you could talk about Olympics, but that’s just not the case.”
The high cost of hosting the Games are the opposition’s main concern, but on Monday the International Olympic Committee (IOC) released a host city contract that could potentially reduce the price by up to USD $500 million. The IOC said they would also contribute $925 million from broadcast and sponsorship revenue towards the operating budget.
The Graz 2026 feasibility study revealed the Games would cost 1.137 billion euro (USD $1.3 million) with further expenditures needed for infrastructure and security.
Last year Innsbruck, the original Austrian nomination, was defeated in a similar referendum. Polls across Styria have shown that a small majority support the bid – but that was also the case in Innsbruck.
The results of the scheduled referendum are believed to be non-binding, but politicians are likely to accept the results as the final decision.
Graz Mayor Siegfried Nagl said he was disappointed about the decision, but remains confident that Styrians would vote to support the project.
He said “I have not only found supporters politically at federal, state and city level, everybody knows that – I fight for something, others want to be against something. I hope that the Styrians decide with vision, the result is binding for me.
“The referendum is likely to take place in September. This is because at the beginning of October, the International Olympic Committee will make a preselection of the Olympic candidates.”
Bid books, along with guarantees are due beginning in January next year and the IOC will elect a winner in September 2019.
Last month Sion in Switzerland dropped from the race after losing a referendum, leaving bids from Calgary in Canada, Erzurum in Turkey, Sapporo in Japan, Stockholm in Sweden and a trio of cities – Cortina d’Ampezzo, Milan and Turin – in Italy, to rival Graz.
Calgary is set to face a plebiscite in November and bids from Stockholm and Italy have yet to get government approval. Officials in Sapporo have admitted that they may instead focus on a 2030 bid.