— Published 16 August 2023

Switzerland shakes things up for the Winter Games

Sweden has yet to give its project a name and, more importantly, a location. France is moving forward on two legs, with a bid supported by two regions. But in the race to host the 2030 Winter Games, which is still as vague as ever with less than seven years to go, Switzerland has taken everyone by surprise.

The National Olympic Committee – Swiss Olympic – announced in detail in a lengthy press release that its Olympic project, the umpteenth since the 1948 Games in St Moritz, would not be that of a city, nor would it be that of a region. It will be the first in history to be driven by an entire country.

Switzerland’s Winter Games. Nothing less. An Olympic and Paralympic event on a national scale, with events in every language zone. Like a football World Cup, but without the buildings. Perfectly in line with the broad outlines of the IOC’s Agenda 2020+5, the Swiss project is presented as the most sustainable in history. The bid does not include a single new facility, and all the events are to be held at existing venues.

Swiss Olympic has made it clear: by the end of the decade, Switzerland will have modern, suitable infrastructure for 13 of the 14 Olympic winter sports. The only grey area is speed skating. The Swiss Confederation does not have a single ice ring that meets the standards of a major Olympic competition. But it has no plans to build one. “Discussions are underway with other nations that could be involved as partners,” insists Swiss Olympic.

Nor does the project include the construction of an Olympic village. Instead, the Swiss are proposing to house the delegations in “Olympic hubs“, using existing accommodation facilities.

A feasibility study was launched by Swiss Olympic and the winter sports federations at the end of April. The aim is to show “by autumn whether the vision of a (para)Olympic Switzerland as host country can become a reality“, explains the body. At this stage, therefore, there is no official talk of a bid. A word of caution.

Question: which Winter Games could go Swiss? The answer remains unclear. Swiss Olympic has made no secret of the fact: its plans are for 2030, 2034 or 2038. Caution, once again. But the eagerness with which the Swiss have been laying down their cards over the last few weeks reveals a clear preference for the first of the three editions, where the opportunity to win has undoubtedly never been more real. For the Swiss, but also for their two potential rivals in Europe, France and Sweden.

Swiss Olympic has another trump card up its sleeve: Switzerland will be hosting an impressive series of winter sports world championships over the course of the decade, including bobsleigh/skeleton in 2023, biathlon in 2025, snowboard/freestyle skiing in 2025, men’s ice hockey in 2026, and finally alpine skiing in 2027. A collection of world events that will make it, in the words of Swiss Olympic, a “World Winter Sports Hub”.

What happens next? Once the feasibility study and its report have been completed, the Swiss Olympic Executive Board and then the Sports Parliament will decide whether to go ahead. This next stage is scheduled for October 2023. In the event of a positive response, the IOC will be able to invite Switzerland to a “targeted dialogue“. In other words, Switzerland and its vision of a “host country for the Winter Games” will truly and officially join the race.

On paper, the Swiss project has a lot going for it. It claims to be sustainable, low-cost, innovative and unifying. But by casting its net so widely, by proposing not just Switzerland’s Games, but those of the Swiss, all the Swiss, it will have to bring the whole country together. Its political forces, its environmental organisations, its population… It is certainly not an impossible task, given the appeal of the concept, but it will have to be done quickly.