Reporting From Milan, Italy – Italian officials hope to open a Milan-Cortina 2026 Olympic Winter Games in Milan’s iconic 80,000 seat San Siro Stadium, but they’ll have to find a way to get athletes to and from the venue from various parts of Northern Italy first.
The Italian Olympic bid is hosting a group of International Olympic Committee (IOC) members and technical experts who are on a five day inspection of venues across Veneto, Trentino, Lombardy and the Dolomites. After traveling about 900 km by bus across Northern Italy to visit snow venues, the IOC team spent Thursday taking in the proposed sites in Milan.
At Guiseppe-Meazza Stadium, the official name for San Siro since 1980, the IOC applauded the use of the historic site that has a rich 95-year history hosting European Cup finals, and six matches at the 1990 FIFA World Cup. But both the IOC and Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) officials admit challenges lie ahead.
“This could be a fantastic experience for the athletes first, because it is an iconic venue,” Commission Chair Octavian Morariu said from San Siro Thursday.
Due to Italy’s widespread regional venue concept that has been inspired by the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms, athletes would be spread across three clusters and in Olympic Villages located in Cortina and Livigno, as well as Milan. Just over one-third of the athletes’ accommodations are located in the Milan Olympic Village only 15 km from San Siro, but athletes in other clusters would need to travel four to six hours to return to their beds.
CONI President Giovanni Malagò said “I think that actually this is not a problem. For us it is our mission to put all the athletes in the best solution with all the instruments of the possibility of transportation to be here for the Opening Ceremony.”
But Morariu said the topic will be discussed at a meeting with the bid committee set for Friday at Palazzo Reale in Milan.
“This is a subject on the table obviously with the bidding committee, and we know they are working hard on it,” he said.
“We know that transportation is important for the athletes and we are looking forward to discussing more with our Italian colleagues with the bidding committee in our meeting tomorrow.”
IOC Executive Director Christophe Dubi said “This is a defining moment.”
“It is great for San Sidro to have the Opening Ceremony of the Games, this would add to the iconic dimension of the venue.
“But you want to make sure the athletes can come and if they wish to do so we’ll find a way. No doubts that they can be accommodated or transported back.
“But that’s part of the detailed planning that has to be done.”
The Closing Ceremony is proposed at the Verona Arena, a Roman amphitheater thought to have been built in the year 30 AD and is one of the largest and best preserved facilities of its kind. It has a current capacity of 15,000 and would be the oldest arena ever used at an Olympic Games – but the location two-hours from Milan poses similar challenges to athletes who wish to attend and are staying in distant Villages.
Dubi remained upbeat about his experience so far in Italy and the prospect of working with the Milan-Cortina team should it be chosen to host in 2026, he said “we deal with very good people who are passionate about what they do.”
“They have very good expertise, they are used to organizing competitions, there is a strong identity of each of these venues, and this is very, very positive for the bidding.”
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to sign a critical government guarantee letter and commit 415 million euro (USD $466 million) to the Games before the IOC team wraps up the visit Saturday. That would give the Italian project a significant edge over rival bid Stockholm–Åre as they struggle to get support from the Swedish government.
At a press conference Saturday the IOC is expected to reveal the results of a nation-wide public opinion poll on the bid that it commissioned earlier this year.
On Thursday the IOC visited the site of the proposed Milan Olympic Village that will be transformed into student housing after the Games. They saw the Palalido de Milano, a 5,600 seat ice hockey arena and the site of Palaitalia a Santa Giulia where a 15,000 seat ice hockey arena will be built.
There was a stop at Mediolanum Forum where figure skating and short track speed skating will be staged.
The inspectors also saw the Fiera Milano Convention Centre where the press and broadcasting facilities (IPC and MBC) will be located.
GamesBids.com will be reporting from Italy this week until April 7, bringing you on-site coverage of the important Evaluation Commission visit. Follow us on Twitter @GamesBids or on Facebook to keep up with this event.