IOC praises 2026 candidates, highlights higher support for Milan bid

File photo shows, Milan-Cortina 2026 Bid Chief Giovanni Malago (left) watches IOC Evaluation Commission Chief Octavian Morariu and IOC Executive Director Christophe Dubi during a press conference at Palazzo Marino in Milan. — Courtesy photo

BERLIN — The International Olympic Committee on Friday heaped praise on two remaining candidate cities for the 2026 Winter Olympics, with Italy's Milan/Cortina bid recording stronger local support than Sweden's Stockholm/Are proposal.

The IOC Evaluation Commission issued its report following inspection visits to both bidders earlier this year.

"Both projects prioritize legacy and sustainability by capitalizing on winter sports tradition and experience, with first-rate, established World Cup venues, knowledgeable and passionate fans, volunteers and event organizers," said evaluation commission chief Octavian Morariu.

The two bids are the last remaining after Swiss city Sion, Japan's Sapporo, Austria's Graz and 1988 hosts Calgary in Canada all withdrew last year, scared off by the cost and size of the Games or strong local opposition to the Olympics.

Turkey's Erzurum was eliminated from the bidding process by the IOC, which has introduced reforms in recent years to cut bidding costs and organization budgets to make the Games attractive to potential hosts again.

Some 80% of venues in both of the 2026 bids are either existing or temporary structures in an effort to keep construction costs associated with the Games low. The IOC said this had reduced budgets by 20% compared to the 2018 and the 2022 Winter Olympics.

"The two candidates have aligned their concepts with their context and local long-term goals. All of this led to massive cost savings and a more sustainable hosting model that is the new reality for the Games," Morariu said.

It has not been an easy process for Milan and Stockholm though, with both having to wait until late to receive much-needed government guarantees and support.

The evaluation commission said the City of Stockholm would not be signing the host city contract should it be awarded the Games. Are would do it instead.

In past bid processes, when the Games were still a highly valued asset for cities, such refusals would equal early elimination from the bid process.

The commission, however, noted in its report Sweden's ability to host global winter sports events.

"The candidature features established and iconic World Cup and World Championship venues," it said.

"Sweden is a winter sports country with a long tradition and experience in organizing snow and ice events, and benefits from professional venue operators and a solid network of volunteers and passionate fans, all of which would ensure an unforgettable experience for the athletes."

But the IOC recorded low support for the Games there, with only 55% in favor across Sweden and 54% in Stockholm.

The figures for the Milan/Cortina bid stood at 83% support in Italy and 87% in Milan, demonstrating what the IOC said was "the public’s enthusiasm for the project."

The IOC will elect the winning bid at its session on June 24 in Lausanne.

Plans stall for unified Korean

team at women's hockey event

South Korea will send its own team to the women's Hockey Series Finals next month after talks with North Korea over fielding a unified team at the Olympic qualifying event stalled, Yonhap News Agency reported.

The International Hockey Federation's (FIH) deadline for submitting squads for the June 8-16 tournament in Ireland was Thursday.

The two countries agreed to field joint teams in various sports in February but the Yonhap report said South Korea had decided to go it alone in women's hockey after its northern neighbor did not respond to calls for joint training sessions.

Sports diplomacy has been a prominent feature of the thaw in relations between the two countries since early 2018, when they fielded a unified women's ice hockey team at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and marched under a unified flag.

They have also expressed interest in jointly hosting the 2023 women's World Cup, but tensions have risen again after nuclear-armed North Korea test fired rockets and at least one short-range missile earlier this month.

The rocket drill brought talks about sports and other inter-Korean exchanges to a halt, resulting in South Korea deciding to select a squad for Ireland entirely from its own pool of players, Yonhap reported.

The Hockey Series Finals event in Ireland is one of three from which six teams, two from each tournament, will go through to the FIH Olympic qualifiers for Tokyo 2020.

South Korea, Olympic silver medalists in 1988 and 1996, are ranked 11th in the world while North Korea do not appear in the FIH rankings. — Reuters