Swedish bid hopes Latvia link key to 2026 Olympics host vote
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The head of Sweden's 2026 Winter Olympics bid believes having Latvia on the hosting ticket can sway Monday's vote for the perceived underdog against Milan-Cortina.
The Stockholm-Are plan to stage ice sliding sports across the Baltic Sea at a venue in Latvia avoids building a white elephant venue in Sweden — a key demand of IOC reforms to cut Olympic hosting costs.
Using the sliding track at Sigulda "adds enormous value" to the two-nation bid, Stockholm-Are chief executive Richard Brisius told The Associated Press on Sunday.
"It will be very important for delivering the new transformative games that we want to do," Brisius said.
The International Olympic Committee wants the 2026 Winter Games to help end skepticism about the cost of bidding and hosting the games, after potential bids in Canada, Switzerland and Austria dropped out due to local opposition.
Brisius argued the Latvian element in Sweden's bid is the best example of living up to the IOC's promise to be flexible with candidates aiming to be cost-efficient.
"Are the IOC members ready for that? We are offering that," the Stockholm-Are official said in a challenge to around 85 IOC voters.
"If we can do this, and we show that this is the way to do it, it will open up for more bid cities in the future," Brisius said. "I would not say we are the underdog — I think we are the future."
One member of Sweden's delegation who is more than happy with the underdog label is retired high jumper Stefan Holm, who has been an IOC member since 2013.
The 43-year-old Holm, who won Olympic gold in 2004, even drew comparisons with Sweden's victory over Italy in the qualifying playoff for the 2018 World Cup.
"Sweden is always the best when we're the underdog," Holm said after a bilateral meeting at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. "In the team sports we could beat Italy in football and we're always the underdog against Italy, the same against Canada in ice hockey or whatever.
"So I think we're in a good place."
Sweden has never hosted the Winter Games. It made numerous bids between 1984 and 2004, while it was also briefly in the race for 2022.
"We are a stable country politically speaking, economically speaking," said Holm, who has been an IOC member since 2013. "We have never held the games before and we really, really want it. We are a sports loving people especially when it comes to winter sport so hopefully it's our turn this time."
IOC members are famously discreet about their voting intentions ahead of a hosting vote, and more than one-third of this electorate is voting for the first time.
A total of 35 members have joined since the last contested vote in July 2015 when Beijing edged Almaty to get the 2022 Winter Games.
"I meet people who are very keen to find out what is best for the (Olympic) movement," Brisius said of the newer recruits.
Two of those 35 are Italian — bobsled federation president Ivo Ferriani and Italian Olympic committee head Giovanni Malago — and so cannot vote Monday.
Malago is confident that the support for the Italian bid, from the government and the general population, will see it edge out Sweden.
That support is a contrast to recent Italian bids — three years ago, Italy was forced to end Rome's bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics because of staunch opposition from the city's mayor. And in 2012, then-premier Mario Monti scrapped the city's candidacy for the 2020 Olympics because of financial concerns.
"We have never received a critic. From any parties," Malago said of the current bid. "The government and the opposition support this bid. I think it is a unique case not only in Italy but also in the world."
The IOC president traditionally does not vote, though in an expected close race the winner is likely to be the candidate most favored by Thomas Bach's office.