IOC says Milan-Cortina, but not Stockholm-Åre, meets all successful games criteria
By Callum Murray
A bid by Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy today appeared to have the edge over its rival, Stockholm-Åre in Sweden, in the race to host the winter Olympic Games in 2026, after the International Olympic Committee issued its evaluation commission report, in which it said of Milan-Cortina - but not of Stockholm-Åre - that the bid meets all of the criteria for a successful games.
Old habits apparently die hard, and the commission's concerns over Stockholm-Åre appear to revolve around the bid's financial support and commitment - as always seemed likely, despite the IOC's much-trumpeted new flexibility over financial guarantees.
Octavian Morariu, chair of the evaluation commission, said: “Both projects prioritise legacy and sustainability by capitalising on winter sports tradition and experience, with first-rate, established World Cup venues, knowledgeable and passionate fans, volunteers and event organisers. They have fully embedded the Olympic Agenda 2020 philosophy, and have athletes at the centre of their plans.”
He added: “The two candidates have aligned their concepts with their context and local long-term goals. All of this led to massive cost savings and a more sustainable hosting model that is the new reality for the Games.”
However, leaving aside the IOC’s natural inclination to provide encouragement to both bids ahead of the vote, and despite the commission expressing several reservations over both bids, it is surely significant that, having briefly described the key elements for any successful games, the commission chose to identify only Milan-Cortina as meeting these criteria.
Those key elements include, the commission said, “a clear vision aligned with existing long-term development goals, a solid venue masterplan, firm support from all sectors of society and the best possible athlete experience.”
Of Milan-Cortina, it said that the bid “meets all these criteria.”
However, there was no such accolade for Stockholm-Åre, with the commission restricting itself to the observation: “Stockholm-Åre 2026’s candidature and vision is broadly aligned with Sweden’s long-term plans to reaffirm its leadership in sustainability, promote an inclusive society and encourage healthy lifestyles and physical activity among Swedish youth.”
It also observed of Stockholm-Åre that, “While the concept is solid, some operational aspects need further details,” and, “At the time of writing, a number of areas, including the governance model and financial support and commitment, remain to be clarified.”
Public support in Milan-Cortina also far outstrips that in Stockholm-Åre, according to the IOC’s latest poll, conducted in March 2019, which found 83-per-cent support in Italy, 87 per cent in Milan, and 81 per cent in Lombardy and 80 per cent in Veneto, the regions which would help finance the games, “demonstrating the public’s enthusiasm for the project.”
Conversely, although support for Stockholm-Åre is “on the rise,” it lags well behind, with 55 per cent in favour in Sweden, 54 per cent in Stockholm and 59 per cent in the central region of Jämtland where Åre is located. However, the commission did add that: “The candidature team considers such figures to be high in the Swedish context.”
The IOC said that the candidate cities “plan to use on average over 80 per cent existing or temporary venues, compared to 60 per cent for the 2018 and 2022 Candidates.
“As a consequence, their proposed Games operating budgets are on average 20 per cent lower than those of the Candidate Cities for the Olympic Winter Games 2018 and 2022.”
The report “will serve as a guide for the IOC members before they vote on 24 June at the 134th IOC Session in Lausanne,” the IOC said.
A winter Olympics in Sweden would, the commission said, “feature athletes competing in first-rate venues packed with knowledgeable and passionate fans, including many from Nordic countries. Many of the competition sites are World Cup venues where athletes will have already competed and will feel at home.”
It added: “Sweden is a winter sports country with a long tradition and experience in organising snow and ice events, and benefits from professional venue operators and a solid network of volunteers and passionate fans, all of which would ensure an unforgettable experience for the athletes.”
Stockholm-Åre’s bid for the games last month finally welcomed a formal pledge of support for the campaign from the Swedish government, regarded as a significant boost after Milan-Cortina had already gained the backing of the Italian authorities.
The lack of central government support had been seen as a major hitch for Stockholm albeit the bid claimed to have held “very positive” talks with senior officials including prime minister Stefan Löfven earlier this year.
While the Swedish government support does not come with a major financial commitment (Stockholm 2026 has pledged not to use taxpayer money to stage the Olympics), it does provide guarantees on issues such as security and visas at the games, as required by the IOC.
Today’s report said that the host city contract would be signed by the Municipality of Åre and the Swedish national Olympic committee, with Stockholm-Åre presenting a “private governance model” for delivering the games. The organising committee, it said, “would be established as a private limited company controlled by the national Olympic committee, national Paralympic committee and private shareholders, and would be the single body responsible for planning and staging the games.”
The games delivery guarantee would be provided through “a multilayer mechanism combining different types of safeguards to include corporate guarantees, insurance and a contingency reserve.”
However, the report warned: “At the time of writing, the names of the institutions or companies, as well as their level of financial contribution, remain to be determined. While letters of intent have been provided, binding venue funding guarantees for the new venues: the Stockholm Olympic Village, the speed skating oval and the cross-country and biathlon venue, are still to be submitted.”
Based on a 100-per-cent privately-financed model, the report said that Stockholm-Åre 2026 “aims to deliver ‘transformative’ games that will establish a sustainable model for all future Olympic winter games. The Swedish project emphasises legacy and sustainability and proposes the use of 9 out of 12 (75 per cent) existing or temporary competition venues.”
However, it expressed reservations over the capital budget for the proposed speed skating oval, to be built in Stockholm’s rapidly-growing Barkarby district, saying that it “should be carefully reviewed,” and noted that while the bid’s four-cluster concept is clear, “further operational planning is needed, especially with regard to transport between clusters and venue capacities.”
It also expressed concern that the proposed Olympic Village in Stockholm, part of the city government’s long-term residential development plans for the Barkarby district, is “dependent on private developers, with a letter of intent but no binding agreement yet in place. There is also currently no financial underwriting in the event that the private developer fails to materialise or deliver the units needed for the games.”
The report said that the vision of the candidature is based on achieving five main goals:
• Encouraging physical activity and healthy lifestyles among Swedish youth
• Creating a more united, integrated and inclusive society for all Swedes
• Highlighting Sweden as a diverse nation and great place to visit
• Reaffirming Sweden’s leadership in sustainability
• Delivering a magical ‘Made in Sweden’ winter games experience for all.
It said that the candidature’s vision is motivated by the long-term city and regional development strategy, adding: “The games are seen as a catalyst for achieving four main goals in Stockholm’s ‘Vision 2040’ plans:
• Offering a broad selection of sports venues for use of the wider population
• Creating new job opportunities and fostering more creativity and business expertise
• Building a more united, integrated and inclusive society
• Setting new standards in sustainability.
The report concluded that “Sweden envisions a magical ‘Winter Wonderland’ experience that combines the dynamic urban setting of the capital city, Stockholm, with the traditional mountain village ambience and landscapes of Åre.”
The Milan-Cortina candidature “is driven by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) and has the unified backing of the Italian sports movement, the private sector and national, regional and city governments – providing a solid foundation for delivery of the games,” the report said, adding: “All stakeholders are united behind the vision of the games acting as a stimulus to drive development across Northern Italy and the Alpine region.”
In contrast to Stockholm-Åre, the bid pointed out that: “Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government has expressed its support and supplied all relevant guarantees on security, customs, immigration and other government services for the games.”
Last month, the bid received a major boost when Conte signed a letter guaranteeing the government’s full support for the bid.
The letter promised that the government would provide security for the games, handle anti-doping expenditures and co-ordinate visas for visiting athletes, officials and fans.
Earlier, it had been reported that the government plans to invest up to €415 million ($465 million) in staging the games, to cover elements of the budget including security, albeit it expects this to be offset by a forecast of €600 million in state revenues from the project.
The report said: “The Italian candidature fully embraces the spirit and philosophy of Olympic Agenda 2020/New Norm as 13 of the 14 proposed competition venues (93 per cent) are existing or temporary. Sustainability and legacy are priorities. The one new venue (ice hockey 1 in Milan) has a robust post-games legacy case as a multi-use arena.
“The only new permanent non-competition venue is the Olympic Village in Milan, which will be converted into much-needed housing for the city’s rapidly-growing university population. Both new projects are privately funded and planned irrespective of the Games.”
Milan-Cortina's vision for the games is based on the following goals, according to the report:
• Delivering a Games for All
• Achieving sustainable development and cooperation across the Macro-Alpine region
• Promoting the Olympic spirit
• Developing the Italian Alps into a major sports and tourism hub
• Strengthening the Olympic brand.
The report said that the games are seen as a stimulus to achieving sporting, social and environmental goals across the area. These include:
• Promoting the sustained use of public transport in the Lombardy region
• Delivering a new housing development in Milan
• Building a much-needed multi-purpose arena in Milan's Santa Giulia area
• Extending bandwidth in the mountain areas to improve working, living and visiting conditions in the Veneto region
• Promoting sport, health and physical activity
• Enhancing cooperation between regional neighbours to improve the appeal of the mountain areas as a place to live, reversing the trend of de-population
• Establishing the mountain region as a dynamic tourism destination.”
However, the bid does not escape criticism completely, with the commission pointing out that, should Milan-Cortina be awarded the games, “some elements of the venue masterplan would require further assessment in line with the objectives of Olympic Agenda 2020/New Norm.”
These are listed as follows:
• “Having separate men’s and women’s Alpine venues in Bormio and Cortina could increase operating costs and logistical challenges. In an analysis provided to the IOC, FIS [the International Ski Federation] indicates that Cortina, which will host the 2021 World Alpine Championships, could serve as the venue for all Alpine events at the games.
• “In keeping with the sustainability and legacy goals of Olympic Agenda 2020, the Evaluation Commission has carefully studied the proposed refurbishment of the Eugenio Monti sliding track in Cortina (which has been out of use since 2008). The Commission is concerned the project would require significant investment and construction work over and above what has been estimated based on benchmark figures. The Commission feels further work is needed on the financial and legacy plans. There is the possibility of using an existing track elsewhere in Europe.
• “Plans were also presented to the Commission for converting and upgrading the existing outdoor speed skating oval in Baselga di Pine into an indoor facility. While the Commission recognises the speed skating culture and passion in Baselga di Pine, it still has concerns about successfully operating the refurbished venue in the long term.”
However, the report concluded: “In any case, Italy finds itself in the fortunate position of having a choice of first-rate venues and alternative solutions.”