Government offers to help Milan-Cortina bid for 2026 Games

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              FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2018, file photo, a worker grooms the snow after installing a set of Olympic Rings on the ski jump hill at the 2018 Winter Olympics at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Center in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Does anyone really want to host the Winter Olympics? Residents in Calgary answered that question with a resounding "No," and now the International Olympic Committee has some soul-searching to do. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
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ROME (AP) — Enjoying its status as the leading contender to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, the Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo bid has received another boost with a funding promise from the Italian government.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said if “private funding isn’t enough, we’ll make the final push” to cover the remaining costs.

Salvini’s announcement signals a shift after Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio said last month the government would send a letter of support for the bid to the International Olympic Committee “but as government we won’t provide 1 euro — neither for direct nor indirect costs.”

So far, the candidacy is being financed exclusively by the regional governments of Lombardy and Veneto — two of Italy’s most affluent regions.

“We hope that resources arrive from the government, too,” Cortina Mayor Gian Pietro Ghedina said Thursday. “Even if the business community in Veneto and Lombardy is quite robust.”

Meanwhile, the other two candidates on the IOC’s shortlist for 2026 are facing problems .

Calgary’s bid was rebuffed on Tuesday when local voters said “no” in a nonbinding referendum, while a newly formed government in Stockholm has announced it would not provide funding to host the games.

“We’ve done well to move forward,” Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago said. “Otherwise we would have lost a chance that seems more unique than rare.”

Added Veneto president Luca Zaia: “It would be a mistake to lower our guard now that there is possibly one less opponent, because we won’t win it until the day it’s assigned by the IOC.”

The host will be selected by the IOC in a vote on June 24 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Milan-Cortina candidacy is operating on a budget of between 2 and 3 million euros ($2.3 and $3.4 million) but could scale back if Stockholm were also to withdraw.

“If we end up alone I won’t cry,” Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala said, adding that his city is ready for the games after hosting the Expo 2015 World Fair. “Big events are a great opportunity. You need to handle them well and we’ve already shown here that we know how to do that.”

There are no plans for a referendum involving the Milan-Cortina bid, which takes advantage of IOC reforms by proposing to host the games over a wide swath of northern Italy.

The candidacy would entail holding skating sports and hockey in Milan and Alpine skiing and sliding events in 1956 host Cortina, which is already preparing to hold the 2021 skiing world championships.

Other snow sports like snowboarding and freestyle skiing could be contested in Bormio and Livigno north of Milan.

Several events would also be slated for existing venues in Trentino-Aldige, which would mean involving a third region.

Biathlon could be held at Anterselva near Cortina, Nordic sports in Val di Fiemme and long-track speedskating in Baselga di Pine.

The opening ceremony would be at the 80,000-seat San Siro in Milan, ensuring one of the biggest crowds in history for a Winter Games kickoff.

And in a nod to Italy’s large trove of cultural and historic sites, the closing ceremony could be at Verona Arena, a large Roman amphitheater that has hosted the Opera on Ice.

“I’ve seen the plan and it’s one that will have some of the least economic impact in history because it utilizes a lot of existing (venues),” Salvini said in an interview with Leggo.it on Wednesday.

One potential hurdle for the Italian bid rose recently when the ruling coalition led by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and right-wing League party suggested it is considering taking over the distribution of financial funding for sports from the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI).

Under current conditions, CONI decides how to divide the more than 400 million euros ($450 million) in annual funding from the government between the various national sports federations. If the function is removed, it would greatly reduce CONI’s power.

However, Italy is anxious to bring a bid through the entire process after two Rome candidacies for the Summer Games were withdrawn in recent years because of financial concerns.

“If we look at how some Olympic cities have ended up there’s not much to be happy about,” Salvini said. “But I prefer to look at the positive side.”