With just over one month to go before International Olympic Committee (IOC) members cast their ballots to elect a host for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, a top government official in Sweden sees an even race between the two candidates.
Joint bids Stockholm Åre from Sweden and Milan Cortina in Italy are all that remain in what had been a seven nation field when the IOC accepted applicants just over a year ago – but the two national concepts have been billed as Games that could be the sustainable and risk-averse projects that the IOC is looking for to fulfill new long-term goals.
“Sweden has high goals when it comes to the environment and sustainability,” Swedish Minister for Culture, Democracy and Sports Amanda Lind said.
“We want to be at the forefront, and a Winter Games would give Sweden the opportunity to showcase that to the world.”
The IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 and its ‘New Norms’ reforms underline these key concepts.
Both bids have embraced the IOC’s new plans, describing them as important precursors to forwarding bids for the Games.
“Olympic Agenda 2020 is a prerequisite for Sweden’s government to express its support for this project,” Lind said.
Government support for both the Swedish and Italian bids had been slow to materialize, and both commitments were received just days ahead of an extended April deadline set by the IOC.
But with support in place, the two campaigns are at full sprint on the final lap to the June 24 election to be held in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“The tension is building up,” Lind said.
“I understand that it is an even race between Stockholm Åre and Milan Cortina.
“I hope, of course, that Sweden wins and comes away with the positive decision.
“I’ll follow the vote as closely as I can and wait for what I hope will be good news. It will be a very nervous day, that’s for sure.”
Sweden’s plans closely follow the IOC’s request to use existing venues, whenever and wherever possible, in order to reduce the costs and risks associated with building new infrastructure and facilities for the Games.
But the Stockholm Åre concept looks beyond the economic costs.
Lind said “The issue of climate change is very topical right now – and it’s an area that is important in this process, as winter sports will experience the consequences of climate change the most, being dependent on winter climate.”
Many of the ice events will be sited in Stockholm while Alpine ski events will be contested at existing world-class facilities in Åre, Nordic events in Falun and sliding events across the border in Sigulda, Latvia. This will result in a new kind of Games where athletes will be hundreds of kilometers apart – in some cases requiring air or water transportation.
In Italy, proposed venues are scattered across the northern regions of the country – hours apart by car.
This strategy is seen as a better alternative to a big build Games, such as in Sochi in 2014 where a USD $51 billion bill was generated; or in PyeongChang last year where three venues – for ice hockey, speed skating, and sliding events – have yet to find a viable post-Games purpose.
Voters and politicians in Sion, Switzerland; Calgary, Canada and Graz in Austria already rejected their 2026 bids due to these potential risks.
“It’s absolutely necessary to follow these guidelines; sports must be serious and responsible when it comes to climate and environmental issues,” Lind said.
The IOC and the winning Games organizing committee will still need to find solutions to accommodate athletes, spectators and officials across the distances created by the regional concepts. This is where the winning bid will help redefine the Games for the future.
On Friday, the IOC will release an evaluation report outlining its findings from visits to the two regions conducted in March and April, as well as bid books that were filed in January.