Voters in the Swiss canton of Valais will decide on June 10 on their fourth Olympic bid in 50 years. In the run-up to the crucial vote, opponents of the Winter Games appear to be gaining ground. swissinfo.ch visited two towns in the southwestern Swiss Alps to see why the issue is dividing the local population.
One month ago, opinion polls were quite evenly split over Switzerland's bid to hold the 2026 Winter Olympics, but at the end of May, an online survey by Swiss public television RTS and the Sotomo institute projected 58% would vote against the plan.
On June 10, citizens in canton Valais will decide on a CHF100 million ($100 million) funding package - CHF60 million for infrastructure and CHF40 million for security - that local authorities would need to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. Sion, the capital of Valais, is to be the main host city.
If local people vote no, that will be the end of the story. If they vote yes, there will still be some way to go. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) would then need to be won over. In autumn 2019, they will choose between seven contenders (Sion, Graz, Calgary, Milan, Turin, Sapporo, Stockholm and Erzurum). Most likely, the Swiss public will also have a say in a nationwide referendum.
Clearly, the Olympic Games cannot be organised with just CHF100 million. According to the financial director of the Sion 2026 committee, the final budget would more likely be around CHF2.4 billion.
The Swiss government would contribute almost CHF1 billion to that figure, pending parliamentary approval. Events would be held in at least four Swiss cantons (Valais, Vaud, Fribourg and Bern).
Opponents fear the Games will go over budget, as is often the case. They argue that Valais, a financially weak canton in the Swiss Alps, would be better off investing in roads, hospitals and social services. Nor do they have much confidence in the IOC, despite its adoption of a Agenda 2020, a reform strategy to optimise budgets and to reduce the complexity of the Games.
Meanwhile, supporters say the Olympics will give the region more visibility, develop tourism, and generate momentum.
Translated from French by Jessica Dacey, swissinfo.ch