The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Friday released its evaluation report assessing the two remaining bids to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, and took the opportunity to commend the projects for their strong integration of new IOC reforms on legacy and sustainability found in Olympic Agenda 2020.
The organization cautioned, however, that further work will be required by the winning organizing committee to keep the widespread regional concepts developed for the “new era” cohesive, and to preserve the athletes’ experience.
Published exactly one month prior to the election by the IOC Session of either Italy’s Milan-Cortina or Sweden’s Stockholm-Åre to host the Games, the report is the result of working site visits conducted in April and May by the Evaluation Commission, and comprehensive bid books that were received from the bids in January.
Members will use the report as a guide when they vote for a winner on June 24 in the Olympic Capital of Lausanne, Switzerland.
Commission Chair Octavian Morariu said “Both projects prioritize legacy and sustainability by capitalizing on winter sports tradition and experience, with first-rate, established World Cup venues, knowledgeable and passionate fans, volunteers and event organizers.”
“They have fully embedded the Olympic Agenda 2020 philosophy, and have athletes at the centre of their plans.
“The two candidates have aligned their concepts with their context and local long-term goals. All of this led to massive cost savings and a more sustainable hosting model that is the new reality for the Games.”
The IOC claims 80 percent of proposed venues are either existing or temporary, making a clear statement on the reduced risk and sustainability of the plans, but the report calls for even further cutbacks on capital expenses while flagging risks associated with the operational budget.
For Italy, the IOC cautioned the proposals of major upgrades to the speed skating oval in Baselga di Pine and the sliding track in Cortina, questioning the legacy plans.
“The Commission is concerned the [Cortina] project would require significant investment and construction work over and above what has been estimated based on benchmark figures. There
is the possibility of using an existing track elsewhere in Europe,” the report read.
With venues and Olympic Villages scattered across four clusters in Northern Italy, concerns were raised about the athletes’ experience, especially surrounding the Opening and Closing Ceremonies to be held in Milan and Verona.
“Further work is needed on finding innovative solutions that would allow the athletes to participate, as well as ensuring the best possible Olympic atmosphere for the athletes across all clusters for the duration of the Games,” was stated in the report summary.
In Sweden, the Commission noted that Åre would be signing the host city agreement and not the City of Stockholm where politicians were not willing to financially endorse the Games. Stockholm will provide city services for the event and will lease the required venues to the organizing committee, but the report cautioned that there could be operational budget risks because contracts have yet to be negotiated.
The Commission also indicated that the budget for a planned speed skating oval near Stockholm should be reviewed “in light of previous Games cost comparisons,” noting that the privately funded project will rely on public funds in legacy mode. In some cases, the report noted that funding guarantees for private projects have yet to be provided.
And as in the Italian concept, the IOC cautioned that more work would be required in Sweden around the Ceremonies, and the athletes’ participation. While the Opening Ceremony is planned for Friends Arena in Stockholm, the Closing Ceremony is slated for “multiple locations” across the four clusters, causing concerns regarding “feasibility and cost.”
For both bids, the IOC raised flags regarding transportation and accommodation plans to facilitate the distance between clusters – the undesirable side-effect of the Agenda 2020 sustainability model.
IOC President Thomas Bach said Wednesday that such regional and multinational bids will be welcome in the future, but that they would still need to focus on a world class athletes’ experience.
He described this as the “magic” of the Games that should not be lost through the new reforms.
The Commission warned that further work will be needed to study the “frequency, capacity and budget impact” on transportation models with the regional footprints, and the need to adjust the accommodation plans.
Overall, the Committee seemed pleased with the two candidates, the only that remain after five cities – Graz, Sapporo, Sion, Calgary and Erzurum – were dropped from the race.
The two European regions in traditional Winter Sports settings are is in line with what President Bach had hoped for at the outset of the campaign last year.
In Italy, an IOC commissioned poll revealed 83 percent support the bid while in Sweden 55 percent said they were in favour of a Games.
The report noted “the candidature team considers such figures to be high in the Swedish context.”
Opposition to the bid has dropped in Sweden over the past year.
The Evaluation Commission will allow the bids to respond to the report and provide additional details up until the technical briefing which will take place on the morning of the vote. A final presentation will follow that afternoon ahead of the vote.
More to come…