Michael Pavitt

Calgarians will go to the polls on Tuesday (November 13) to cast their ballot and decide if residents are for or against the Canadian city hosting the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2026.

The outcome will undoubtedly shape the 2026 bid race. A positive vote will transform Calgary into the clear favourite to host the Games, provided their Mayor decides not to end it anyway. A negative outcome for the Bid Committee will see them swiftly depart the race, leaving just Stockholm and the Italian effort of Milan and Cortina D'Ampezzo in the running.

Like their European hopefuls Calgary appeared to have been down and out at one stage, with the City Council still voting 8-7 in favour of ending the bid two weeks ago. As 10 votes were needed for the motion to pass the plebiscite will go ahead.

With a hefty amount of text sure to be produced on Calgary in the next couple of days, I'll offer my apologies to our North American friends and focus on the Europeans in what has become a bid race of the undead.

Stockholm's effort appeared to be getting the last rites last month after the City Council's two newly-merged parties supposedly agreed they will not host the Games. Yet, the bid still remains in contention.

The Italian effort was described as "dead" by Giancarlo Giorgetti, the Under-Secretary for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, back in September following the withdrawal of Turin from the process.

Last weekend Giorgetti met with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach in Rome, along with Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Giorgetti's "strong support of the candidature", coupled with the decision that the regions of Lombardy and Veneto will take up the lion's share of the costs, prompted Bach to claim the Italian effort has an "excellent chance".

Having been largely ignored at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires in October, some now believe the Italian bid is the favourite.

"The public opinion is to think that you are obliged to have a guarantee from the Government," Italian Olympic Committee President Giovanni Malago tells me at the European Olympic Committees General Assembly here.

"This is not true. The history of the IOC and Olympic Games is full of other versions of this fake news. The US are private and have other institutions to have these guarantees.

"What is fundamental is the Government have to confirm another type of guarantee, for visas and security."

Malago expressed confidence that the central Government will provide such a guarantee, before dubbing Lombardy and Veneto the "locomotives" of Italy, with the former claimed to be the richest region in the whole of Europe.

IOC President Thomas Bach handed the Italian bid a boost last week on a visit to Rome ©IOC
IOC President Thomas Bach handed the Italian bid a boost last week on a visit to Rome ©IOC

The Italian claimed that Bach's comments have shown that the Italian bid is moving in the right direction prior to their first bid presentation, which will come at the Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly in Tokyo in a couple of weeks time.

Malago suggested there is flexibility in the cost-share agreement between the two regions involved, given their closeness. He believes CONI have found a "new way", having reassessed the candidature process.

"It is a new formula and we are very happy with it, we are proud," he claimed. "I am happy to say that Italy, CONI and the two regions have opened a new era. We are first in the world to personalise and better the New Norm."

The bid may have been patched up following the withdrawal of Turin, which meant the IOC Working Group were unable to conduct site visits. However, despite the effort turning from a three to a two-pronged approach, there is a confidence the Italians are growing in momentum.

The plan makes sense in a lot of areas, with Milan poised to take the leading role in holding ice events, as Cortina provides the home for the majority of snow sports. The latter would build upon its hosting of the 2021 World Alpine Championships, while Milan only this year held the World Figure Skating Championships.

An ice hockey venue in Milan would be the sole permanent facility constructed under the current plan, yet the IOC Working Group's report noted that significant work would have to take place to restore the Eugenio Monti sliding track, which has been closed since 2009. Malago insists the current plan is to remain in Italy for all events, despite suggestions they could take sliding sports abroad.

Much of our half-an-hour chat is spent discussing the beauty of Cortina and the gastronomy and shopping of Milan - I have not been to either for the record.

The CONI President highlighted that the unity of the bid will be showcased in Tokyo. Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala is set to represent the cities involved, while President of Veneto Luca Zaia will represent the two regions to show the political support.

CONI President Giovanni Malago is heading the Italian bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics ©CONI
CONI President Giovanni Malago is heading the Italian bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics ©CONI

Political support is something Stockholm could do with. The bid was plunged into serious doubt a month ago following a reshuffle in the City Council.

Stockholm 2026 chief executive Richard Brisius believes people are now settling into their roles within the political structure and that several have already responded positively to the concept being put forward.

It remains to be seen whether political backing will come to fruition, but given this has been at the forefront of conversation whenever the Swedish bid has been mentioned, it is not impossible that the effort will continue to run until all hope of gaining support has been exhausted. At some stage, though, the guarantees will have to be produced.

While the Central Government will be required to stump-up for security, everything else is expected to be privately financed. Brisius hopes the private financing of the bid and the plan itself will persuade the right people over the coming months.

He points to great support from Olympians in backing the effort, with two-time Alpine skiing Olympic champion Pernilla Wiberg among those to have publicly called for Sweden to pursue hosting the Games. Along with the elite level athletes, Brisus claims there is also a strong, growing, grassroots movement who are supportive of their efforts.

"Over 50 per cent of our population are part of a sports club," Brisus notes. "We are also  predominantly a winter sport nation."

While being a "sport mad" nation is a positive thing, it also creates challenges. The demand for facilities is asserted as one of the reasons why Stockholm's bid for the Games makes sense. An ice arena, which would be one of two new venues for the Games, would fulfill a need that the public has according to Brisus.

"Stockholm is a growing city," he said. "As the city expands in size, there is a great need for facilities to meet the demands.

"We need more ice. People finish on the ice at 11pm because there has been a wait to get on."

Stockholm remains in the race but requires political support to succeed ©Getty Images
Stockholm remains in the race but requires political support to succeed ©Getty Images

The new arena would be used for sports like ice hockey following the Games, a sport that the country is currently the reigning men's world champions in.

Brisus also claims that Nordic skiing is a sport growing as a leisure activity in the country. He compares the growth in the sport to the increase in the number of people taking up cycling in the nation.

The Swedish official also adds that he has given up his car due to either cycling or using public transport to go to work. The latter is claimed to be the second-best public transport network in the world.

"Second only to Singapore," Brisus adds.

The transport system would be a key part of the Games should Sweden be welcoming the world's top winter athletes in around seven years' time. While Stockholm will prove the figurehead of the Games, competitions would also be held in Åre - next year's Alpine Skiing World Championship host - Falun and Sigulda, meaning fast and effective transport will be essential.

Sigulda's involvement comes following an agreement with Latvian authorities to use their sliding centre for bobsleigh, luge and skeleton events. For the Latvians' part, they would get to host Olympic competition and develop housing which would be used for the Olympic Village.

The collaboration is clearly viewed as part of the more flexible approach from the IOC. Brisus reserves praise for the IOC experts, whom they have been collaborating with on evolving their masterplan for the potential Games.

"They know exactly what they are looking for," Brisus said. "They quickly turn to particular pages because they have been through this so many times before and know what is required."

The candidature file continues to be tweaked as candidates seem to be heading into the finishing straight in the bid race. The most important evolution for Stockholm's bid, though, would surely come from politicians. A green light from the Government and City Council would likely install the Swedish capital as the favourite to secure the Games.

All three candidates have so far come out the other side having seemingly seen their bid effectively killed off at one stage. All three have also enjoyed a spell as the favourite to win. The race still seems to be which bid is left standing at the finish line in Lausanne rather than several candidates dipping for the tape.

There remains the possibility that none of the three will make it to the Olympic Capital for the 2019 IOC Session and that Plan B - that the IOC claim they do not have - has to be enacted.

For now, it is all eyes on Calgary…