Officials from Swiss Olympic Thursday claim business as usual after the Lower Chamber of Parliament (National Council) narrowly approved a motion to force a risky nation-wide referendum over the funding of almost 1 billion Swiss francs for Sion’s 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid.
The referendum still needs approval from the Upper Chamber (Council of States) before balloting can occur, but many believe the motion to be a tactic to prevent the bid from moving forward – causing delays that will force the project to miss International Olympic Committee (IOC) deadlines. There is no immediate timeline for the Upper Chamber to gather for a vote, and the earliest a national vote could be taken, according to government officials is February 2019 or later, past the a January milestone to deliver government guarantees to the IOC.
While Swiss Federal referendums are common for things like changes to laws or the constitution, national votes over budget issues are rare, amounting to a rule change mid-way through the bid campaign.
Swiss Olympic President and Head of Sion 2026 Jürg Stahl said in an email “This decision by the National Council is by no way final as it would yet have to be approved by the Council of States in the coming months.”
“Our schedule remains unchanged: our next main milestones remain the final decision of the Federal Council at the end of May and the referendum in the canton hosting the most events in our Olympic and Paralympic project, Valais, in June.”
The Federal Council expressed support of the bid last October and are expected to confirm the same in June after its required due diligence. A binding referendum across the Canton of Valais, where most of the planned venues are located, has been scheduled for June 10. Sion officials with the help of supporters and the IOC have been conducting public consultations ahead of the referendum.
Last month a nationwide poll revealed 59 per cent across Switzerland opposed the bid.
Distrust of the IOC, even though its headquarters are located in Switzerland, has been the main cause of public push back against the bid. Nation-crippling cost overruns at recent Games and corruption scandals within the organization are still fresh even as the IOC has introduced reforms and claims it has changed for the better.
Mathias Reynard, who supported the motion told to Le Matin “It has nothing to do with Valais, it is a vote of no confidence in the IOC. I did not vote [Tuesday] for or against Sion 2026. We must not be afraid of the people.”
A cantonal referendum will be a challenge for Sion 2026, but a national vote will be much more difficult with less time and more ground to cover for a campaign. Many other regions in Switzerland are much less supportive of a bid, and their numbers will skew results against the project.
On Thursday the Executive Council of the canton of Bern approved the proposed federal funding of the 2026 Games; venues in Bern are being considered as hosts for Ice hockey, Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined events.
The IOC has set a March 31 deadline to file a letter of interest in hosting the 2026 Games. Along with Sion – Calgary, Sapporo and Stockholm have entered the race. Graz in Austria says it will meet the deadline and Lillehammer along with Milan or Turin could follow.
The winning city will be elected in September 2019.