— Published 6 November 2023

The IOC vetoes Milan-Cortina 2026

The soap opera continues. And it’s still full of surprises. The endless back-and-forth between the IOC and the organizers of the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Games over the thorny issue of the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton track has just had another episode. This time, the leading role has fallen to the Olympic body.

The Associated Press reports that, at the end of last week, the IOC brushed aside the last option put on the table by Italian organizers: a renovation of the Cesana track in Piedmont, used for the 2006 Turin Winter Games. The project had been mooted a few days earlier by the Milan-Cortina 2026 team as an Italian alternative to re-commissioning the historic Cortina d’Ampezzo track. For the IOC, this is out of the question.

A brief review of the facts. In mid-October, the president of the organizing committee, Giovanni Malago, took advantage of the Milan-Cortina 2026 report before the 141st IOC Session in Mumbai to announce that the three sliding disciplines could not be contested in Italy. He referred to a decision taken a few days earlier by the Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni.

Giovanni Malago pointed out that the organizing committee would be looking at various options abroad. Austria is one option, with the Igls track not far from Innsbruck. Switzerland was another, with Saint-Moritz.

The case seemed to be wrapped up, but an umpteenth twist has muddied the waters. On Tuesday October 24, a summit meeting in Milan brought together all those involved in the project, including the Italian Minister for Sport, Andrea Abodi, the mayors of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, the presidents of Lombardy and Veneto, plus the Milan-Cortina 2026 management team. At the end of the debates, it was announced that the government had changed its mind and would prefer an Italian option. Top of the list was Cesana and its Olympic track, opened for the 2006 Turin Games but closed six years later.

The only major problem is that the IOC doesn’t want it. The Olympic body has nothing against Cesana, a large village of a thousand souls that sits like an oblivion at the foot of the Montgenèvre pass. But the Olympic body is opposed to the idea of spending a few tens of millions of euros on renovating a facility of proven uselessness: the track hasn’t been used for over ten years.

The IOC has been very clear in recent years that no permanent venue should be built if there is no clear and viable legacy plan, the body explained in a statement sent to AP. At this stage of preparation, only existing and already operational runways should be considered.

The message is clear: the Italians can forget about any idea of renovation. Instead, they should be more pragmatic, and look elsewhere for what they no longer have: a functioning bobsleigh, luge and skeleton track. In its statement, the IOC drives the point home, adding that “the number of sliding centers is currently sufficient for the number of athletes and competitions.

End of story? Probably. But beware, the final point has already been made several times on this chapter, before being erased as the Italian authorities came and went.

Meanwhile, the value of the Swiss and Austrian options has risen sharply. The Igls piste, in particular, seems to be holding its own. Located around 160 kilometers from Cortina, it’s considerably closer than the St. Moritz site (320 kilometers). And the Austrians have made no secret of their desire to team up with Milan-Cortina 2026 for the sliding events.

This is anything but anecdotal: two of the three candidates for the 2030 Winter Games already have an Olympic-standard bobsleigh, luge and skeleton track. And, above all, in working order. Switzerland with Saint-Moritz, France with La Plagne. Sweden can’t say the same. But those behind the project have already explained that they will be turning to a neighboring country, Latvia, where the Sigulda track meets all the criteria.