Sion 2026 Olympic Bid In Danger As Referendum Could Be Switched To National Vote

A surprise motion passed in Swiss Parliament Tuesday could result in the Sion 2026 Olympic bid referendum becoming a national Swiss vote instead of being limited to Valais Canton.

Sion 2026 banners outside Swiss Sport General Assembly Room April 11, 2017 (Swiss Olympic Photo)

Sion 2026 banners outside Swiss Sport General Assembly Room April 11, 2017 (Swiss Olympic Photo)

Changing the scope of the referendum could be devastating for Sion’s Olympic plans, especially with limited time in the campaign.  Organizers were hoping the necessary vote would be confined only to the Canton – a national February poll revealed 59 per cent opposed Sion’s bid.

By a vote of 92 to 87, with seven abstentions, the National Council agreed that a decision to budget 995 million Swiss Francs (USD $1 billion) for an Olympic Games should be made by citizens across Switzerland.  This vote by the Lower Chamber must still be supported by the Upper Chamber before a national vote can be forced and no timetable for such a decision has been set.

The Executive Branch of the Swiss government approved the funding last October but left it up to a June 10 general referendum in the Valais region before the bid could be approved.  Bid officials have already organized public consultations in the region with the help of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and have been campaigning ahead of the planned vote.

But if a national referendum were to move forward, the June 10 date would no longer be viable and the IOC requires bids to commit campaigns in October and submit necessary government guarantees in January 2019.  Officials say the earliest a national election could be held would be in February 2019.

Campaigning across the country will be more challenging and costly for the bid, and the results would include areas that have been historically anti-Olympic bid including in St. Moritz where last year over 60 per cent rejected a local bid.

Sion 2026 Vice President Hans Stöckli told Le Matin that a national referendum would amount to giving up on the Games in Valais.  He said due to the timing, they may need to discontinue the project.

House of Sion 2026 promotes Switzerland’s Olympic bid at House of Switzerland in Nations Village at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games (GamesBids Photo)

Putting a budget issue of this nature to a national public vote is considered unprecedented in Switzerland.  It is not known when the Upper House can assemble to vote, making the next steps unclear.

Sion is the only declared bidder in the 2026 Olympic bid race.  Calgary, Sapporo and Stockholm have expressed interest and have been involved in the IOC’s dialogue phase.  Graz in Austria along with Lillehammer, Milan and Turin are considering bids but must express interest ahead of a March 31 IOC deadline.

The IOC will elect a winning city September 2019.

More to come as this story further develops.

Robert Livingstone

About Robert Livingstone

Robert Livingstone is a senior editor, award-winning journalist and author, covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. He is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians. Follow him @enotsgnivil