IOC faces 2026 Winter Games conundrum as cities flee

Saturday, 2018-11-17 07:18:21
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Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr, Vice-President of the 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. (Photo: Reuters)
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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% of citizens voted against the project in a plebiscite, unconvinced the benefits of the Olympics were worth the multi-billion-dollar investment.

Of an original list of seven cities, only Stockholm and an Italian bid remain and both of those are struggling for local and governmental support.

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 last month.

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 financial woes.

Stockholm is facing opposition from a new city government which said last month it will be against any bid that includes taxpayer funding.

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 programmes 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.

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.

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.

Reuters