The champagne bubbles have only just settled after Lausanne was chosen to host the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics, but already Swiss sports officials are looking ahead to a possible bid for the much larger Winter Games in 2026.
On Friday July 31 the city of Lausanne, known locally as the Olympic Capital because it’s home to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and numerous other international sports federations, was chosen to host the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games after a vote by IOC members in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Although much smaller (budget of CHF37 million) than the traditional Winter Games, the chance to host the third edition of the Winter Youth Olympics, an international multi-sport event and cultural festival for 1,200 young people aged 15-18, is hugely significant for the Swiss.
These will be the first Winter Olympics to be held in Switzerland since 1948 in St Moritz. Previous attempts to galvanise local interest have all failed over fears about the financial and environmental costs.
Officials now have a bigger prize in their sights as Lausanne 2020 could act as a trampoline for Switzerland to again bid for the traditional Winter Games. The last formal bid, Sion 2006, lost to Turin.
Jörg Schild, president of Swiss Olympic, said Lausanne’s victory offered a new sense of optimism for a future Swiss candidacy.
“I see the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games as a first step,” he told the media in the Malaysian capital.
Swiss Olympic, which must initiate any future bid, has already started to investigate the possibility.
Schild recently set up a working group to examine ideas, which includes politicians and officials from Swiss Olympic, the IOC, the Federal Office of Sport, canton Valais (where Sion is the capital) and the tourism sector. Three meetings are planned before the end of November.
Meanwhile, Christian Constantin, a Valais property developer and president of FC Sion football club, already has a head start on the group. He is spearheading a possible 2026 bid initiated by canton Valais. In December 2014, Constantin created a company to look into the question, which is due to present a report to Swiss Olympic this autumn.
Observers say the overall timing is on Switzerland’s side. Asia will host the Summer and Winter Games in Pyeongchang (2018), Tokyo (2020) and Beijing (2022) and it is possible the 2026 Winter Games could go to Europe.
Also, Switzerland could have less competition. France (Paris), Italy (Rome) and Germany (Hamburg) have officially said they would be candidates for the 2024 Olympic Summer Games, so it’s unlikely they will also be interested in the Winter Games.
Time is short: The Swiss would have to finalize a bid already in 2017 for the host city vote in 2019.
Simpler and cheaper
As part of the youth games’ proposal, Lausanne plans to stage some skiing events in neighbouring France, embracing the IOC's new Agenda 2020 reforms which encourage bidding cities to adopt more flexible and cheaper strategies such as cutting organizational costs by using existing facilities.
For the moment, officials backing an Olympic bid say it is too early and refuse to be drawn on whether they will link up with neighbouring countries or pursue a multi-site Swiss-only strategy.
Gregory Saudan, a project manager for Constantin’s initiative, said their venture was led by canton Valais, but was completed with existing infrastructure across Switzerland - in cantons Vaud, Bern and Graubünden.
“We are working with Valais and taking sites outside the canton to take advantage of Agenda 2020," he said. "We are not going to build a toboggan run in the canton or a ski jump while they exist nearby. And we won’t build more ice rinks than we need. We could use the new one at Lausanne which will be one hour from Sion and will have a 10,000-seat capacity.”
Jean-Loup Chappelet, professor at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration in Lausanne and former executive director of the failed Sion 2006 Olympic bid committee, said many ideas were circulating right now.
“But it’s not just a question of a good project and facilities. You have to get the population to accept it and that is the difficult part,” he said.
The Swiss have a huge uphill task as local opposition crushed a recent candidacy. In 2013 voters in Graubünden vetoed a local bid (St Moritz-Davos) for the 2022 Winter Games mainly due to financial arguments.
On July 31, Beijing defeated Almaty, Kazakhstan to host the competition. But they were the only two contenders remaining in a race depleted by withdrawals when public opposition over Olympic gigantism and financial concerns in Europe began whittling the field of candidates one by one.
After St Moritz-Davos, Munich and Krakow withdrew after negative referendums in Switzerland, Germany and Poland, Stockholm, Lviv and Oslo all dropped out due to lack of local support.
Professor Martin Müller, a specialist in mega-events from the University of Zurich, says the obstacles are considerable for Switzerland.
“The population of Graubünden rejected the St Moritz-Davos bid for 2022 and I don't think a bid for 2026 is on the cards for Switzerland - unless the IOC's Agenda 2020 is able to lower the requirements for hosts in critical areas and the IOC sends clear signals that a multi-site bid is welcome,” he declared. “I think the Valais is the likeliest candidate, but even there a referendum would be close.”
Chappelet was also dubious whether the Swiss public is again ready to host the Winter Games.
“In 2006 80% of people were in favour of the Sion bid but at the moment I’d say support for an Olympic bid in Switzerland is less than 50%,” said the professor. “The mood right now is all about questioning these mega-events. Enthusiasm can be built up. It’s a question of communication, explanation and transparency. But it will take a generation to bring back the Winter Games.”
The Youth Olympic Games take place every four years in winter and summer. Previous winter tournaments were awarded to Innsbruck (2012) and Lillehammer (planned for 2016). Summer games were held in Singapore (2010) and Nanjing (2014) and are planned for Buenos Aires (2018).
The youth games were invented in 1998 in response to growing global concerns about childhood obesity and the dropping participation of youth in sport activities, especially amongst youth in developed nations.
The Winter Youth Olympics is a major international multi-sport event and cultural festival for young people aged 15-18. The Lausanne competition will have a budget of CHF37 million, two-thirds covered by the federal authorities. It is expected to attract 1,200 young athletes and their families.
The winter events, featuring seven sports from the Winter Games, will be split between Lausanne (ice skating and ice hockey), Vaud Alps (downhill skiing and snowboard) and the Joux Valley in the Jura Mountains (cross-country skiing). Acrobatic skiing will be held at Les Tuffes in nearby France.
Swiss Winter Games
St Moritz has hosted the winter games twice: in 1928 and in 1948.
A number of Swiss candidacies have collapsed in recent years. The biggest failure was perhaps for Sion, the capital of canton Valais, which lost the battle for the 2006 Winter Games to Turin.
Other projects in Graubünden, Bern, Zurich, Lausanne or even Geneva failed because of local opposition or because the Swiss Olympic Committee refused to back them.