ROME (AP)Costly construction delays, a leadership vacancy linked to a volatile political climate and a lack of sponsors amid a spreading financial crisis has prompted International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach to acknowledge the ”challenges” facing organizers of the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.
With the IOC’s coordination commission visit to the Milan and Cortina venues postponed by three months to December because of national elections in Italy slated for later this month, it was left to Bach to handle matters during a visit with outgoing premier Mario Draghi before receiving an award from the Italian Olympic Committee.
”As always before Olympic Games, there are challenges – in particular light of this new emerging world order and the financial and economic crisis,” Bach said Friday.
”But we have overcome some challenges in the last couple of years,” Bach added, referring to games held in Tokyo and Beijing amid the coronavirus pandemic. ”So I’m not too worried because we know about the enthusiasm, efficiency and the dedication of our Italian friends.”
In an era of increasing sensitivity about the cost of Olympics – and the typical overspends funded by taxpayers – Bach said one of the most expensive venue upgrades for 2026 would not be included in official Milano-Cortina budgets.
Italian authorities have set aside more than 80 million euros ($80 million) to renovate the historic sliding track in Cortina for bobsled, luge and skeleton races.
Bach explained ”this would be a touristic and sport project which would go ahead anyway and regardless of the Olympic Winter Games.”
Bach also supported local authorities who are waiting until after the election to appoint a new CEO of the organizing committee after the departure of Vincenzo Novari – a move which has paralyzed construction and other plans, such as the recruitment of sponsors.
”The new CEO must have and should have the support of the new government,” Bach said. ”It would not be advisable to appoint such a CEO right now, a couple of (weeks) before national elections.”
The 2026 Games will be the most widespread Olympics ever, with venues spread out over 22,000 square kilometers (nearly 10,000 square miles) across a vast swath of northern Italy – from the regions of Lombardy and Veneto to the provinces of Trento and Bolzano.
The 2026 organizers have followed the IOC’s plans for modern Olympics to cut costs and not build taxpayer-funded white elephant venues.
”Thanks to the new rules we were able to imagine a candidacy like Milan-Cortina,” 2026 committee coordinator Diana Bianchedi told Bach. ”I promise to you we won’t let you down.”
There had been discussions of holding sliding at an existing venue just beyond Italy’s border in St. Moritz, Switzerland, or Innsbruck, Austria.
The IOC recently created a panel for cost cutting, which makes the move to keep sliding in Cortina surprising.
The $100 million sliding track built for the 2006 Turin Games – the last time Italy hosted the Winter Olympics – was dismantled in 2012 amid rising maintenance costs.
But Ivo Ferriani, the president of the International bobsled and skeleton federation – who was the general manager of the Turin track – pointed to a century of sliding history in Cortina.
The Cortina track was built in 1923 and the resort known as the ”Queen” of the Italian Dolomites was home to bobsledding great Eugenio Monti, who won six Olympic medals between 1956 and 1968.
”There’s a tradition and (sliding) culture in Cortina,” Ferriani told The Associated Press. ”The legacy isn’t about the venue; it’s about the people.”
Ferriani added that plans are already being made to host World Cup bobsled races at Cortina in 2026-27 followed by the world championships in 2027-28 – plus European Cup and Paralympic races.
”This will be the best venue (worldwide), because it will be completely accessible,” Ferriani said, adding that its proximity to other tracks in Austria, Switzerland and Germany makes it a natural fit for the circuit.
Bach had little to say about debate over the plan to hold speedskating on an outdoor track in Baselga di Pine in the Trentino region.
The last time Olympic speedskating was held outdoors was for the 1992 Albertville Games, with the IOC having since preferred the controlled environment of indoor venues.
Outdoor ice is notoriously tough to keep in shape for all competitors to have a fair chance at a medal.
High temperatures made matters even worse in Albertville, where one recurring term was ”slush,” with skaters ploughing through soft ice that sometimes had a thin sheet of water on top.
”I don’t have the chair of the coordination commission here with me,” Bach said. ”What I can tell you is before coming here I did not get an alert that I would absolutely have to address something.”
Told that this was a topic better handled by Christophe Dubi, the executive director of the Olympic Games, Bach added, ”I guess that consultations are going on.”
Bach’s 12 years as IOC president expires in 2025, a year before the Milan-Cortina Games.
”I am really looking very much forward to (2026), because by then I will be able to really enjoy the bella vita Italiana and Olympic sport to its fullest,” he told the crowd at CONI, ”if you still invite me.”
Bach was also asked about comments a day earlier by U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee chair Susanne Lyons, who said the IOC is discussing ”whether there is a pathway” for the return of Russian and Belarussian athletes to international sports following the ban because of the invasion of Ukraine.
”It goes without saying that from the very first moment when we said we are in this dilemma, that we are looking for ways out of this dilemma,” Bach said. ”But this is about it. I cannot report any concrete steps or a deadline.”
The longer Russian athletes stay banned from international competition, the more qualification events for the 2024 Paris Olympics will be missed.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.
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