Liam Morgan

Throughout his tenure as International Olympic Committee (IOC) President, Thomas Bach has largely got what he has wanted.

While that might not be the case externally - the reputation of the IOC has taken a hit amid the response to the Russian doping crisis - there are plenty of examples of Bach getting his way.

To name two, the IOC chief helped orchestrate a double award of the 2024 and 2028 Olympics and Paralympics to Paris and Los Angeles respectively and also aided North Korean participation at Pyeongchang 2018.

Judging by his comments following the IOC Executive Board meeting in Lausanne last month, Bach is keen to have a reduced field in the fledgling race for the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

At this stage it seems Bach, who will return to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs when Buenos Aires stages the IOC Session in October, will be able to put another tick in his personal win column.

IOC President Thomas Bach has suggested the organisation want a reduced field in future Olympic bidding races ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach has suggested the organisation want a reduced field in future Olympic bidding races ©Getty Images

The current state of the 2026 race is well-documented but Bach, naturally, told the Olympic press corps that the IOC were "not concerned" despite issues hovering ominously over all five remaining candidates.

For Italy it is politics, for Calgary the uncertainty of a public vote and for Erzurum it is security causing headaches in their respective bids. Elsewhere, Stockholm's attempt hinges on local elections and Sapporo prefer 2030.

Yet the IOC will almost certainly rubber-stamp the five cities to proceed at the Session in the Argentinian capital. How long they remain in the race beyond that is far from assured.

Even Calgary, rumoured to be one of the IOC's preferred options, are not guaranteed to stay the course. Opposition to the bid in the city, which hosted the Winter Games in 1988, appears to be increasing week-by-week.

Anti-hosting group NoCalgaryOlympics recently wrote an open letter to new chief executive Mary Moran asking her to justify why the city would want to host a three-week event "that will not have meaningful impact" on its future.

The letter outlined several concerns previously raised by the group, ranging from overall costs to Calgary partnering with a Movement plagued with recent controversies, some of which are directly related to bidding for the Olympic Games.

We have seen before the sway such opposition groups can have amid a city's perusal over whether to bid for the Olympics, with candidacies from Boston and Budapest among those to have felt the force of public antipathy.

Calgary 2026 chief executive Mary Moran has already been contacted by bid opponents ©Calgary 2026
Calgary 2026 chief executive Mary Moran has already been contacted by bid opponents ©Calgary 2026

The exact impact of NoCalgaryOlympics is yet to be seen but the movement is seemingly gathering pace in the city and could prove a considerable thorn in Calgary 2026's side prior to two crucial dates- a Calgary City Council meeting on September 13 and a planned plebiscite on November 13.

The number 13 is deemed unlucky in certain cultures and opponents will be hoping that proves true with Calgary's Olympic candidacy.

Proposed "performance-related" incentives in Moran’s contract - one to get through a plebiscite and another to win the Games - have been the latest device used by critics to attack Calgary 2026, with some claiming the bonuses encourage only one outcome.

"By explicitly building one into somebody's contract who has been given the task of making a disinterested decision, you make that basically impossible by giving them a financial interest on one side of the question," David Dick, a professor of ethics at the University of Calgary, told CBC.

Moran has not even started in her role yet as she officially assumes the position on Monday (August 13). Expect those who are against a bid from the Canadian city to lobby vociferously to ensure the votes do not go Calgary 2026's way.

While external opposition is the main problem for Calgary, issues in the Italian bid, further thrust into the limelight this week, have been entirely internal.

From the perspective of an outsider, and indeed the IOC, the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) launching a joint bid involving three cities makes sense. It means they can use existing facilities to save costs, hugely appealing to the IOC, which in turn lessens the burden for the taxpayer.

The combined effort, including Milan, Turin and Cortina d’Ampezzo, would also spread the supposed benefits of staging the Olympics further afield, making for a more nationwide Games.

But Mayors in Milan and Turin respectively are not convinced.

Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala has criticised the joint Italian bid for 2026 ©Getty Images
Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala has criticised the joint Italian bid for 2026 ©Getty Images

Giuseppe Sala, the Mayor of Milan, has gone on the offensive by calling the joint plan a "botched solution". His main grievance is a claim that CONI initially supported a sole candidature from the city before performing a late u-turn to throw their backing behind the three-city bid for "political reasons".

"I asked for a meeting immediately and I was told that we will see each other in September, so let's wait," Sala told television channel Rai 3.

"We have not pulled out, but I will not allow Milan's dignity to be trampled on. 

"This is the truth - that CONI and President Malagò had decided to focus on Milan and the policy then made him change his mind.

"The CONI and its President for many months had said, in my presence and that of other people, that in the race to host the Winter Olympics of 2026 they would have focused on Milan and Malagò cannot say no. 

"Then 24 hours before the choice he explained to me that it was not possible to go on like this for political reasons."

CONI have not publicly responded to the accusation, but the organisation claimed the joint bid provided Italy with the best chance of success when it was announced earlier this month.

Turin’s Mayor Chiara Appendino, a member of the Five Star Movement which proved crucial in the derailing of Rome’s bid for the 2024 Summer Games, has also spoken out against the idea and the mounting criticism does not paint a particularly positive picture for the IOC.

The IOC always insist all stakeholders have to be behind an Olympic bid - which has become even more pertinent now amid concerns over rising costs and a general apathy towards bidding - and that does not seem to be the case in Italy.

Both cities have insisted, however, that they are still part of the joint effort but the situation is likely to become clearer when the Mayors gather for a meeting next month.

It remains possible that the Mayors might come together and refuse to move forward with the bid in its current format, which would deal a blow to both CONI and to the IOC - even if a smaller number of candidates is what the President wants.