Sweden v Italy as IOC votes to choose 2026 Winter Olympics hosts

Lausanne (AFP) –


International Olympic Committee members will decide Monday between bids by Stockholm/Are and Milan/Cortina d'Ampezzo in the race to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games.

The vote to choose a winner from the Swedish and Italian rivals is expected to be closer than the 2015 vote when Beijing beat the Kazakh city Almaty to land the 2022 Winter Games.

On the road to the 2026 decision, bids from Calgary, Graz in Austria, Japan's Sapporo and Sion in Switzerland have fallen by the wayside, mainly because of concerns over the cost or a lack of popular support.

A bid by the Turkish ski resort of Erzurum was ruled out by the IOC in October 2018.

The bid by Stockholm and the Are ski area -- which hosted the World Ski Championships in February -- appeared to be running out of steam a few months ago due to a lack of funding commitments, but the government has now swung behind it.

On the eve of the vote, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said after meeting IOC president Thomas Bach: "Sweden is ready to host the Winter Olympic Games in 2026 and the Swedish government is very supportive."

On Monday, as final presentations were made ahead of the vote at 1600GMT, he hammered home what he insisted was a cost-effective bid.

"While organising a great Games, we can end the age of extremely costly Olympics that threaten welfare spending and leave a trail of underused structures and public resentment," he said.

"You wanted change; we will deliver this change."

- Dance moves -

Swedish officials also attempted to lighten the mood with Stockholm major Anna Konig Jerlmyr bursting out some dance moves to the sound of Abba's mega-hit Dancing Queen at the end of her speech.

Swedish high jumper Stefan Holm, the 2004 Olympic champion in Athens and now a member of the IOC, said winter sports powerhouse Sweden had a strong claim to host the Winter Games for the first time.

"Sweden deserves the Games -- Norway has had them twice, so it would be fair for Sweden to have them," he said, adding, in a veiled jibe at Italy's economic slowdown, that his country was "economically and politically stable".

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte followed the Swedes with his pitch for Milan on Monday.

"Our bid is worthy of the highest consideration," Conte told delegates.

"If Italy is chosen, then work will start from this evening so that our Games leave a mark on history.

"This is the dream of an entire country, and not only the Government but also the regions."

Italian Olympic 500m short track speed skating champion Arianna Fontana highlighted the climate advantages of the bid.

"Milan/Cortina will be the sunny part of the Winter Olympics, with an average 10 hours of sunlight every day," she said.

Michela Moioli, Olympic snowboard champion in 2018, added: "The whole country believes in us; it's your turn to believe in us."

Marcello Lippi, the veteran Italian football coach now in charge of the China national team, was also in Lausanne to support the Milan bid.

A total of 82 IOC members are reportedly likely to cast votes in the ballot to decide the host city, meaning a simple majority of 42 will be required to win.

Italy has twice hosted the Winter Olympics -- in 1956 in Cortina d'Ampezzo and 2006 in Turin.

Sweden has only hosted the Summer Olympics, in 1912 in Stockholm.