— Published 25 October 2023

For Milan-Cortina 2026, a track without a finish line

A soap opera. With less than 1,000 days to go until the event (D – 835 on Wednesday 25 October), the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton track at the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Games is taking on the look of a TV series with twists and turns, where each episode takes pleasure in twisting the script until it threatens to break up.

On Tuesday 24 October, a summit meeting in Milan brought together all those involved in the project. It was intended to be “informal“, but the line-up around the table spoke volumes about the importance of the discussions: Andrea Abodi, the Minister for Sport, who came to represent the government; the mayors of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Giuseppe Sala and Gianluca Lorenzi; the presidents of the Lombardy and Veneto regions, Attilio Fontana and Luca Zaia; the presidents of the provinces of Trento and Bolzano, Maurizio Fugatti and Arno Kompatscher; plus, of course, the president of Milan-Cortina 2026, Giovanni Malagò, the vice-president, Luca Pancalli, and the general manager, Andrea Varnier. A heavyweight team.

There was just one item on the agenda: the ski slope. A matter of urgency. But strangely enough, the options are still wide open. Abroad, as announced last week, but also Italy.

As Giovanni Malago explained on Monday 16 October in Mumbai, during the Milan-Cortina 2026 Organising Committee’s report to the 141st Session of the IOC, the Italian government no longer wants to hear about renovating the historic track in Cortina d’Ampezzo, built for the 1956 Winter Games. The Italian leader confided that he had been asked two days earlier to shelve the project once and for all.

Surprisingly, however, the Italian option no longer seems entirely out of the question. Never late for a U-turn, Giorgia Meloni’s government has apparently changed its mind. The prospect of looking abroad for what could be found at home is no longer considered as attractive.

Admittedly, the Italians have not written off the Austrian (Igls, near Innsbruck) and Swiss (Saint-Moritz) options. But the trend is now towards a national solution.

Two choices have been mooted: Cortina d’Ampezzo and Cesana. The first is well known: the Eugenio Monti piste, a vestige of the past whose reconstruction costs have been climbing steadily since the bid phase. Abandoned last week, it has just come back into the discussion, but in a low-cost version.

The second choice, the Cesana track in Emilia-Romagna, had never before been mentioned as an option. This is hardly surprising, given that this facility, built for the Turin Winter Games in 2006, has not been in operation since the Olympic Games. The machinery used to cool it was dismantled after the Games.

On Tuesday 24 October, the Cesana option was widely discussed. It could even quickly move to the top of the pile. The cost of restarting the station is estimated at €34 million, paid for by the French government. The work could be completed in a year. After the Milan-Cortina 2026 Games, the track will be given a new lease of life, with the installation of a high-level national centre for bobsleigh, skeleton and luge, a training centre for young people and a funpark for board sports. Heritage, a concept much appreciated in Lausanne.

The Organising Committee announced in a brief press release issued at the end of the meeting that a series of evaluations will be carried out shortly. Its conclusions will be communicated “within the deadlines agreed with the IOC.” When? Mystery.

With less than 28 months to go before the event, the skies still don’t seem clear. And it could well be clouded over for the organising committee. The Italian press is reporting that the Veneto Court of Auditors has opened an investigation into the reasons for abandoning the project to rebuild the Eugenio Monti track in Cortina d’Ampezzo, and above all the cost.

The magistrates want to understand why it took so long to realise that the project was not viable. They want to find out why the call for tenders for the runway renovation work was unsuccessful. Finally, they are curious to learn a little more about the amount of public money already spent on the project. To date, all of it has been wasted.