Cantons in western Switzerland, including Vaud and Valais, have joined forces to launch a regional bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. Three Swiss projects are in the running to try to bring the Games back to the Alpine nation for the first time since 1948. A final decision is now with Swiss Olympic.
“This country needs projects, especially in the area of sport, but not just for elite athletes, for everyone. And we need to give a boost to tourism,” declared Jean-Philippe Rochat, vice president of the Swiss Ski Federation, at the launch of a joint “Swiss Made Winter Games” bid held in Lausanne on Thursday.
“We want to do something new and ambitious without damaging the environment or taking risks,” he explained.
The bid is the brainchild of Valais property developer Christian Constantin and entrepreneur Bernard Rüeger, president of the Vaud Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It has the support of five western cantons and the cities of Lausanne and Sion.
Their bid can also count on well-known resorts in Valais such as Verbier, Zermatt, Saas-Fee and Crans-Montana, plus Villars and Leysin in Vaud.
“We think this kind of project can reinvigorate regional tourism and infrastructure,” said Pierre-Yves Delèze, the Valais minister for economy, energy and territory. “We are convinced that it will be a stronger bid by working together.”
The promoters say they have not decided on the main host city. The likely choice is between Lausanne and Sion.
“For the host city we could imagine the opening ceremony in Sion and the closing in Lausanne,” said state councillor Jean-Michel Cina.
The organisers say their bid has numerous advantages. Firstly, not much needs to be built.
“We have almost everything for the 2026 Winter Games, apart from a speed skating rink and a bob run,” said Rüeger.
The operating cost is also manageable, they argue: CHF1.8 billion ($1.82 billion), of which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would cover CHF850 million. Ticket sales should generate CHF200million and sponsors, the local authorities and “various” sources would have to cover CHF750 million, added Rüeger. Their budget is based on the recent failed Graubünden bid for the 2022 Games, which was rejected by voters.
He could not say exactly how much the taxpayer would have to invest. The federal authorities are ready to provide a financial guarantee of CHF1 billion, he noted.
According to their calculations, the Winter Games could inject CHF1.5 billion in income for the economy, as well as CHF85 million in additional tax revenue and 750,000 overnight stays.
The fact that the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games are also due to take place in Lausanne and canton Vaud would also provide valuable synergies and experience, the organisers argue.
Recently, the IOC has agreed a string of reforms, named Agenda 2020, aimed at making bidding for the Games less complex and cheaper, in turn attracting more cities to the process.
Swiss Olympic is convinced the small alpine nation now has a better chance of securing the bigger Games with a smaller, multi-site proposal.
However, the western Swiss cantons are up against stiff competition from two other Swiss bids. Canton Graubünden is planning a candidacy with Zurich. And a Bern engineer is behind a bid involving Bern, Lucerne and Zurich.
These would be the first major 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.
A Swiss Olympic task force will now evaluate the candidates before making a final decision on whether to bid by September 2017. But the timetable is extremely tight as beforehand the local population must also have its say. It is unclear which region in the joint western Swiss bid will vote, say the organisers. If a Swiss candidate is finally put forward, the IOC will pick the winning bid in 2019.
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 and Geneva failed because of local opposition or because the Swiss Olympic Committee refused to back them.