ROME — Costly construction delays, a leadership vacancy due to a volatile political climate and a shortage of sponsors amid a spreading financial crisis have prompted International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to acknowledge the “challenges” facing organizers of the Winter Games 2026 in Milan are Cortina d’Ampezzo.
With the IOC’s Coordinating Commission visit to the Milan and Cortina venues postponed three months to December due to Italy’s national elections scheduled for this month, Bach was left to settle matters during a visit to outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi beforehand he received an award from the Italian Olympic Committee.
“As always before the Olympic Games, there are challenges – especially in view of this emerging world order and the financial and economic crisis,” said Bach on Friday.
“But we overcame some challenges in recent years,” Bach added, referring to games taking place in Tokyo and Beijing amid the coronavirus pandemic. “So I’m not overly concerned because we know the enthusiasm, efficiency and commitment of our Italian friends.”
At a time of increasing sensitivity to the cost of the Olympics – and the typical excess spending funded by taxpayers – Bach said one of the most expensive venue upgrades for 2026 would not be included in Milan-Cortina’s official budgets.
Italian authorities have allocated more than 80 million euros ($80 million) to renovate Cortina’s historic slide for bobsleigh, luge and skeleton races.
“That would be a tourism and sporting project that would take place anyway and independently of the Winter Olympics,” explained Bach.
Bach also backed local authorities, who are waiting until after the election to appoint a new CEO of the organizing committee after Vincenzo Novari’s departure – a move that has paralyzed construction and other plans such as sponsorship recruitment.
“The new CEO must and should have the support of the new government,” Bach said. “It would not be wise to appoint such a CEO now, a few [weeks] before the federal elections”.
The 2026 Games will be the most widely viewed Olympics ever, with venues stretching over 22,000 square kilometers (nearly 10,000 square miles) across a vast swath of northern Italy from the Lombardy and Veneto regions to the provinces of Trento and Bolzano.
2026 organizers have followed the IOC’s plans for modern Olympics to cut costs and avoid building taxpayer-funded white elephant venues.
“Thanks to the new rules, we could imagine a candidacy like Milan-Cortina,” 2026 Committee Coordinator Diana Bianchedi told Bach. “I promise we won’t let you down.”
There have been talks of holding the Sliding at an existing venue just across the Italian border in St Moritz, Switzerland, or Innsbruck, Austria.
The IOC recently created a panel to cut costs, making the move to slide further in Cortina surprising.
The $100 million slide built for the Torino 2006 Games – the last time Italy hosted the Winter Olympics – was dismantled in 2012 amid rising maintenance costs.
But Ivo Ferriani, the president of the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation – who was general manager of the Turin Railway – pointed to a century of sliding history in Cortina.
The Cortina cable car was built in 1923 and the place known as the “Queen” of the Italian Dolomites was home to the great bobsledder Eugenio Monti, who won six Olympic medals between 1956 and 1968.
“There’s a tradition and [sliding] Culture in Cortina,” Ferriani told The Associated Press. “The legacy isn’t about the venue; it’s about the people.”
Ferriani added that plans are already being made to host World Cup bobsleigh races in Cortina in 2026-27, followed by the 2027-28 World Championships – plus European Cup and Paralympic races.
“This will be the best place [worldwide]because it will be fully accessible,” Ferriani said, adding that its proximity to other circuits in Austria, Switzerland and Germany makes it a natural fit for the circuit.
Questions about speed skating
Bach said little about the debate about the plan to organize speed skating on an open-air rink in Baselga di Piné in Trentino.
The last time Olympic speed skating was held outdoors was the Albertville Games in 1992, although the IOC has since favored the controlled environment of indoor venues.
Outdoor ice is notoriously difficult to keep in shape so that all competitors have a fair shot at a medal.
High temperatures made matters worse in Albertville, where a recurring term was “slush,” with skaters plowing through soft ice sometimes covered by a thin layer of water.
“I don’t have the chairman of the coordination commission with me here,” said Bach. “What I can tell you is, before I came here, I didn’t get a notification that I needed to speak up.”
When told that this was an issue better dealt with by Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games Executive Director, Bach added: “I think consultations are ongoing.”
Bach’s 12 years as IOC President will end in 2025, a year before the Milan-Cortina Games.
“I’m really looking forward to it because until then I will be able to really enjoy it Bella Vita Italiana and the Olympic sport to the fullest,” he told the crowd at CONI, “if you still invite me.”
Bach was also asked for comment a day earlier by US Olympic and Paralympic Committee Chair Susanne Lyons, who said the IOC was discussing “whether there is a way” for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international sport after the ban because of the invasion of Ukraine.
“It goes without saying that from the first moment we said we were in this dilemma, we were looking for ways out of this dilemma,” Bach said. “But that’s about it. I can’t report any specific steps or a deadline.”
The longer Russian athletes remain banned from international competitions, the more qualifying events for the Paris 2024 Olympics will be missed.