IOC faces 2026 Winter Games
conundrum as cities flee
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[November 17, 2018]
By Karolos Grohmann
(Reuters) - The International Olympic
Committee (IOC) is facing its most serious bidding crisis in decades
as cities drop out of the 2026 Winter Games bid race en masse,
leaving a field of just two candidates.
The Canadian city of Calgary on Tuesday became the latest to pull
the plug on its 2026 Games candidacy after more than 56 percent of
citizens voted against the project in a plebiscite, unconvinced the
benefits of the Olympics were worth the multi-billion dollar
Of an original list of seven cities, only Stockholm and an Italian
bid remain and both of those are struggling for local and
Calgary, which hosted the 1988 Winter Games, became the fourth city
to drop out of bidding in mid-race, after Austria's Graz, Japan's
Sapporo and Switzerland's Sion. Turkey's Erzurum was cut by the IOC
The two remaining bidders are Stockholm, which pulled out of the
2022 bidding process after baulking at the Games' cost, and the
fragile combined Italian candidacy of Milan and Cortina D'Ampezzo.
The Italian bid, which at one point included Torino before the city
pulled out after a disagreement with the other two, is far from
guaranteed the necessary political support amid the country's
Stockholm is facing opposition from a new city government which said
last month it will be against any bid that includes taxpayer
The whole situation leaves the IOC, which will elect the winner in
2019, struggling to understand what has gone wrong after reforms in
recent years under the 'Agenda 2020' and 'The New Norm' banners.
Those programs were aimed at making bidding and staging the Games
cheaper and easier but have failed to attract new cities.
Instead, the exodus has increased, piling pressure on the IOC and
its President Thomas Bach to stem the flow.
"There is no Plan B," Bach said last month when asked what would
happen if Calgary dropped out and if the IOC would consider other
cities stepping in. Salt Lake City, hosts in 2002, is often
mentioned as a potential quick solution for 2026.
While the IOC has played down the exits, blaming the political
climate in some countries or "outdated information" about the cost
of the Games given to voters at referendums, there is concern among
some of the international winter sports federations.
"Naturally we are worried," a winter sports official who spoke on
condition of anonymity told Reuters. "For Calgary it is also the
percentage of refusal by the people that is of concern... We have to
find solutions but we also have to be honest about the causes."
"We have to find a way back to the local population. The efforts
have not succeeded."
This is not the first bid process marred by cities pulling out. Just
two out of the six original bidders were left for the 2022 Winter
Games vote back in 2015, with Beijing eventually winning the prize.
[to top of second column]
Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr, Vice-President of the International
Olympic Committee (IOC), speaks as he presents Milan / Cortina as a
candidate to host the 2026 Winter Olympics during the 133rd IOC
session in Buenos Aires, Argentina October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos
Some have pointed the finger at Russia's Sochi 2014 Games and its
staggering $51 billion price tag as the reason for the cities' lack
of interest in the Games.
The IOC directly awarded the 2024 and the 2028 Summer Games to Paris
and Los Angeles respectively at the same time after several other
cities, including Rome, Boston, Hamburg and Budapest withdrew.
'NOT END OF WORLD'
For Michael Payne, a former head of marketing at the IOC who has
also worked with bid cities and Olympic sponsors, the 2026 bid
process is not a major headache, given the IOC's healthy finances
and broadcast viewing figures.
"Even if other cities fall over it is not the end of the world. The
IOC will fix the problem," he said.
But he said Sochi's massive spending has had an adverse effect on
potential future hosts.
"People are still dealing with the legacy of Sochi," he said.
(Russian President Vladimir) Putin thought that he was doing the
movement a big favor by saying 'look what I am investing in the
"But the IOC should have immediately stepped in. They were not firm
enough at the time." Current IOC President Bach was elected four
months before the Sochi Games, succeeding Jacques Rogge.
The international ski federation (FIS) sounded confident the 2026
Games would find a high-quality host.
"It will take time to educate the general public about the IOC
reforms to the Games," FIS told Reuters in a written statement.
"And for them to see first-hand in upcoming editions the effect of
these new policies and practices, which is one reason behind the
'no' votes in the various referendums on the 2026 bids."
"There still remain two very attractive bids in two FIS and winter
sports key markets and we very much look forward to the 2026 Games
taking place in either Sweden or Italy, who would both be excellent
Olympic hosts with rich winter sports traditions."
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Toby Chopra)
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