— Published 12 May 2023

With 1,000 days to go before the Winter Games, Milan-Cortina 2026 has no room for error

The unusual has become the norm in the Olympic movement. Just a few hours before celebrating the symbolic date of D – 1,000 days before the opening of the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Games, the IOC and the Italian organisers wrapped up another meeting of the Coordination Commission this week. Online, remotely. With speakers from all over the world.

Giovanni Malago, the president of the organising committee, was in Milan, surrounded by his entourage, including the new director general, Andrea Varnier. Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s Executive Director of the Olympic Games, was in Lausanne. As for Sari Essayah, the Chairwoman of the Coordination Commission, she took part in the exercise from her country, Finland.

Without the slightest surprise, both sides showed satisfied faces and shared confidence in front of the media as they took stock of the meeting. The official discourse matched this.

We are entering an exciting and crucial phase,” said Sari Essayah. We are confident because the organising committee now has a strong team, new business partnerships have been announced and important decisions have been made regarding the venues. The groundwork has been successfully laid, which will give a new impetus to the preparations in the coming months.”

The words are carefully chosen. They do not hide the slow start of the Italian train, but assure that the pace is now more reassuring. They suggest that the hardest part is over, especially those long months of waiting for the arrival of a general manager, that the delay can be made up and that the pieces of the puzzle are now complete.

Giovanni Malago’s words drive the point home. “We are extremely grateful for the atmosphere of patience and effective cooperation that characterises our relations, not only with this Commission but also with the IOC, the IPC and the International Federations,” explained the Italian. “We are fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead, but I must say that the closing report brings me some comfort.”

So everything is going well? Yes and no. With a thousand days to go until the opening ceremony, Milan-Cortina 2026 has no room for error. The “challenges” mentioned by Giovanni Malago remain immense. Sari Essayah herself admitted this to the media on Thursday 11 May, barely hiding behind her smiles a tone of rare firmness: “At this stage, there is no more time to lose. Andrea Varnier’s team needs more experts and employees. The plan is good, but they will need to recruit in 2023. The effects of the war in Ukraine are being felt on costs, they will also need to find more sponsors to support the extra costs of inflation.”

In recent months, the Milan-Cortina 2026 team has seen two arrivals touted as key: Andrea Francisi as director of operations, and former fencer Diana Bianchedi as head of strategy. The IOC and Sari Essayah were pleased. But the Finn is adamant that there are still some heads missing, and even more arms, to stay on track.

The partnership? It is also progressing. Andrea Varnier reminded us that the organising committee had regisered since the beginning of the yeart the arrival of five national partners. Not bad. But they are also the first five. With 1,000 days to go before the event, the copy is still very inadequate.

We are currently engaged in a good number of negotiations, he confided. By the end of 2023, we hope to have twelve partners.”

The Italian clan assured the media on Thursday 11 May that the budget for the next Winter Games has not changed since the Olympic and Paralympic event was awarded to Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2019. At the last count, it is still set at €1.5 billion, the figure announced during the bidding phase. “We are trying to keep it at that level,” explained Andrea Varnier. To succeed in such a gamble would be a feat.