IOC meets in Switzerland to elect host for 2026 Winter Olympics

Italy's National Olympic Committee (CONI) president Giovanni Malago speaks during the final presentation of the Milan-Cortina candidate cities the first day of the 134th Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Italian officials insisted their debt-hit economy can support hosting the 2026 Olympics, and brought Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte to tell voters on Monday his country is united behind the project.

Sweden’s prime minister insisted his apparently skeptical nation really wants to host the Winter Games, after the mayor of Stockholm took the stage and sang an Abba lyric to persuade Olympic officials they could dance and have the time of their lives.

The two Winter Games candidates — favoured Milan-Cortina and long-time underdog Stockholm-Are — made their final pitches to International Olympic Committee members in a nine-hour meeting to elect a winner.

"We submit with full confidence to your judgment," said Prime Minister Conte, whose government faces increasing European Union scrutiny of Italy’s national debt.

Both candidates would likely have failed to get this far in previous Olympic bidding contests.

The IOC has relaxed previously strict rules that demanded financial guarantees and government support earlier in the process.

It was an attempt to revive Winter Games bidding that has just two candidates on the ballot paper for the second straight time since Russia spent $51 billion on venues and infrastructure for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Now, the IOC seeks to avoid costly new venues — and potential white elephants — while encouraging regions and multi-nation bids to share the load. Sweden would use a bobsled track in Latvia, across the Baltic Sea, rather than build its own.

"We have budget problems in Italy but I think that this is something that everyone has," Italy Undersecretary of State Giancarlo Giorgetti said at a news conference, citing the wealth of the Lombardy and Veneto provinces underwriting the games costs.

"They are two of the richest provinces in Europe," Giorgetti said. "They certainly have the capacity, they have the readiness, they have the finances in order to be able to support the event."

The IOC has promised to contribute at least $925 million toward games operating costs of up to $1.7 billion. Building athlete villages in Milan and Stockholm shape as the main capital investment and most uncertain ventures in the projects.

Days before the vote, the IOC flagged up the Stockholm village as a risk and asked for more details of guarantees underwriting the project.

"A letter of intent is as important to us as any contract," Volvo chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said during a 30-minute formal presentation, in what seemed a rebuke to the Olympic body.

The day-long meetings began with each bid in a closed-door session with IOC members. The Swedish bid was challenged to prove its support from a Stockholm city authority coalition formed last October and a national government only five months ago.

Sweden Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said he assured voters "it’s in the Swedish model, it’s in our DNA" to deliver a stable Winter Games.

One factor favouring the Italian bid — uniting Milan, the Alpine ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, and several towns in between — is the IOC’s own polling which puts support from local residents above 80% compared to Swedish public backing around 60%.

The 2026 contest meets the IOC’s long-stated wish to return to traditional heartlands for winter sports after major construction projects from 2014-2022 in Russia, South Korea, and China.

The signature feature of Sweden’s bid is using the ice sliding sports track in Sigulda, Latvia, that meets the IOC’s demand to use established sports venues.

The IOC has praised both candidates for projecting sports budgets "on average 20% lower" than spending on the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics and 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Up to 82 IOC members will vote after both candidates return to the stage for the traditionally slick and emotional pleas to be awarded the games.

The mayor of Stockholm, Anna Konig Jerlmyr, reminded voters of Sweden’s most famous music act.

"Abba is everywhere," she said, before singing the ‘Dancing Queen’ lyric: "You can dance, you can dance, having the time of your life."

With more gravitas, Nobel Foundation executive director Lars Heikenstein spoke of Olympic values being an inspiration. Olympic leaders have long coveted a Nobel Peace Prize for the organization.

Sweden’s heir to the throne, Crown Princess Victoria, was part of a 100-plus delegation at the Swisstech convention centre though did not take part on stage.

Italy’s bid was livened by two Olympic champions, downhill skier Sofia Goggia and snowboarder Michaela Moioli, doing a dab gesture and talking of their hopes to compete on home snow in almost seven years’ time.

Italy last hosted the Winter Games in Turin in 2006, and Cortina hosted in 1956. Sweden never hosted the Winter Games, though Stockholm was the 1912 Summer Games host.

The result was scheduled to be announced at 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT).

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