The Parliament of Valais in Switzerland Friday voted to approve and support the Sion 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bid, and provide 100 million francs (USD $105 million) of funding.
Winning 101 votes for and only 22 against, with five abstentions, the motion marks another step forward for the Swiss Olympic bid. Organizers continue to fight for approvals from stakeholders before they can commit to a campaign if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board accepts the bid in October this year.
The boost for Sion came just minutes ahead of the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games.
The approval in the Valais canton where Sion is situated was not unexpected, and represents only one of the several cantons, including Bern, Fribourg and Vaud, where events at the Games would take place. This regional strategy is designed so that less venues will need to be built and the the costs could be borne across several governments.
Now officials are preparing for a general binding referendum across Valais on June 10 to determine whether residents want to vie for the Games. The public vote is considered to be the bid’s biggest hurdle with several recent European Olympic bids falling victim to referendums in the recent past including in Innsbruck last year for these same Games, Hamburg for the 2024 Summer Games and Krakow in Poland for the 2022 Winter Games.
Last month a poll released by Le Matin Dimanche in Switzerland revealed most Swiss do not support the bid. The results showed 59 per cent of of those surveyed said they were either against or “quite against” the project. Sixteen per cent were “quite in favour,” and 20 per cent were in favour.
But Sion officials believe voters are looking at the old IOC model and haven’t considered changes that make it possible to host the Games with less cost and risk.
Valais Sport Minister Frédéric Favre told GamesBids.com in PyeongChang last month that Sion is only in the race due to the IOC’s Agenda 2020 reforms and its promise to allow for affordable and sustainable Games projects.
“If we want to propose the same [compact] model as PyeongChang, people will say ‘no’, because in Sion we have everything for the Olympic Games,” Favre said regarding the referendum.
“You say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of the model of Switzerland to rent the rink, to rent the bobsleigh, to rent the mountain, and so on and not to have infrastructure construction.”
As a result, the Sion bid has launched a series of public consultations, and have invited IOC officials to help explain the model. Favre hopes these meetings will help win public trust in the IOC, and approval for the bid.
If the bid is approved, Sion would face other cities on the international stage. The deadline to express interest in the race is March 31 and currently Calgary, Stockholm and Sapporo have applied – but none have yet committed. Graz in Austria and Lillehammer in Norway have also been considering bids.
The IOC will elect a winner in September, 2019.