Mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala and members of Milan-Cortina delegation celebrate after winning the bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, during the first day of the 134th Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), at the SwissTech Convention Centre, in Lausanne, Switzerland, Monday, June 24, 2019. Italy will host the 2026 Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, taking the Winter Games to the Alpine country for the second time in 20 years. (Philippe Lopez/Pool via AP)

Italy’s Milan-Cortina wins vote to host 2026 Winter Olympics

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Riding a wave of widespread Italian enthusiasm to be an Olympic host, Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo won the vote Monday to stage the 2026 Winter Games.

International Olympic Committee members voted 47-34 for the long-favoured Milan-Cortina bid over Stockholm-Are from Sweden that also included a bobsled track in Latvia.

Milan-Cortina’s jubilant delegation broke into chants of “Italia! Italia!” when the result was announced, giving the Alpine nation a second Winter Games in 20 years.

“I’m really emotional,” Italian Olympic president Giovanni Malago said, close to tears at the winner’s news conference. “It’s a very important result, not only for me but the whole country.”

Italy will get a third Winter Games, after Turin hosted in 2006 and ski resort Cortina staged in 1956.

Sweden never hosted the Winter Games and was sent to an eighth loss in bidding in the past 41 years.

A lack of enthusiasm for the project in Sweden — rating 28% below the Italians in the IOC’s own polls — was a decisive factor.

“What was clear was the gap in public support,” IOC President Thomas Bach said, suggesting it hinted at weaker political backing.

A spirited late campaign effort was in vain, including Stockholm’s mayor Anna Konig Jerlmyr appealing to voters from the stage by singing a lyric from Abba song ‘Dancing Queen’.

A sign of simmering Swedish frustration came minutes later when IOC board member Gunilla Lindberg pushed the limit of Olympic diplomacy ending her team’s 30-minute presentation.

Lindberg challenged her colleagues to reward a new kind of creative, cost-effective bid the IOC has said it wanted — “Or is it just talk?”

“It just came. I felt it (needed to be said),” Lindberg told The Associated Press after the vote.

Instead, IOC members picked Italy despite a debt-hit economy which faces increasing European Union scrutiny.

“We submit with full confidence to your judgment,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told IOC members before their vote.

Both candidates would likely have failed to get this far in previous Olympic bidding contests.

The IOC has relaxed previously strict rules that demanded financial guarantees and government support earlier in the process.

It was an attempt to revive Winter Games bidding with just two candidates on the ballot paper for the second straight time, since Russia spent $51 billion on venues and infrastructure for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Now, the IOC seeks to avoid costly new venues — and potential white elephants — while encouraging regions and multi-nation bids to share the load. Hence, Sweden teamed with Latvia, across the Baltic Sea, rather than build its ice sliding sports venue.

“We have budget problems in Italy but I think that this is something that everyone has,” Italy Undersecretary of State Giancarlo Giorgetti said at an earlier news conference, citing the wealth of the Lombardy and Veneto provinces underwriting the games costs. “They are two of the richest provinces in Europe.”

The IOC will give at least $925 million toward Italy’s games operating costs of up to $1.7 billion.

After Russia’s huge spending in venues, infrastructure and cost overruns for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, multi-billion dollar construction projects were awarded in new markets for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics and 2022 Beijing Olympics.

The 2026 contest met Bach’s long-stated wish to return to traditional winter sports heartlands, use existing venues and cut costs.

The IOC praised both candidates for projecting sports budgets “on average 20% lower” than spending on the 2018 and 2022 games.

Building athlete villages in Milan and Stockholm shaped as the main capital investment and most uncertain ventures in the projects.

Last week, the IOC flagged Stockholm’s village as a risk, and asked for more details of guarantees underwriting the project.

“A letter of intent is as important to us as any contract,” Volvo chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said in the formal presentation, in what seemed a rebuke to the Olympic body.

Needing to work hard to persuade Olympic voters, Sweden sent its heir to the throne, Crown Princess Victoria, and Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to Lausanne.

Sweden’s search continues for its first home Olympics since the 1912 Stockholm Summer Games.

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