AP Interview: Milan-Cortina bid can revolutionize Olympics
ROME (AP) — It starts with the name — featuring two cities as opposed to the usual one — and involves venues dotted across a large swath of northern Italy stretching from Milan to the Dolomites.
The Milan-Cortina bid for the 2026 Olympics has the potential to revolutionize the Winter Games and leave a new blueprint for the future.
It's the first candidacy to fully embrace reforms demanded by IOC President Thomas Bach, seeking to cut costs and ease taxpayer concerns in the aftermath of Russia's $51 billion spending to prepare for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"We're the forerunner and we take pride in that fact," Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, the same day that bid books were sent to the IOC.
The Milan-Cortina candidacy takes advantage of the more flexible rules provided by Bach's reforms.
The bid proposes to hold figure skating, hockey and short-track speedskating in Milan; sliding sports and curling in 1956 host Cortina; and speedskating, biathlon and Nordic sports in Trentino-Alto Adige.
Alpine skiing would be divided between Bormio (men) and Cortina (women), and only one venue would need to be built from scratch — an arena in Milan.
The opening ceremony would be at the 80,000-seat San Siro in Milan, with the closing at Verona's Arena, a large Roman amphitheater.
"Without Agenda 2020 (Bach's reform package) we would not have been able to bid," Malago said.
The only other remaining candidate for 2026 is Stockholm, which proposes to hold sliding events in Latvia. Following Milan-Cortina's lead, Stockholm announced on Friday that it, too, was adding a second name to its bid. It's now called "Stockholm Are 2026," with Alpine skiing events taking place in the resort of Are, 541 kilometers (336 miles) northwest of the Swedish capital.
The IOC is scheduled to select the host cities in June.
"It wouldn't surprise me if in the future there is a two-nation bid," Malago said.
Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games executive director, said the IOC "should consider regional bids," adding, "we could brand the games differently by the name of a region."
The Italian bid was originally slated to also include Turin before the 2006 host was left out amid a political squabble. But Malago left room for Turin to move back into consideration with its speedskating oval.
"This is the dossier for now and we're convinced we can win with this dossier," Malago said. "But recent history shows us that new opportunities arise once you've been assigned the games."
Tokyo, which will host the upcoming 2020 Summer Games, has changed or altered nearly a third of the venues from its original bid — and its budget has more than doubled.
Milan-Cortina plans for a budget of 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion), 900,000 euros of which would be covered by IOC contributions.
Italy is anxious to bring a bid through the entire process after two Rome candidacies were withdrawn.
Three years ago, Italy was forced to end Rome's bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics because of staunch opposition from the city's mayor. And in 2012, then-premier Mario Monti scrapped the city's candidacy for the 2020 Olympics because of financial concerns.
Malago would not even consider the possibility of another rejection.
"There will not be another 'No' because the boat has already left the port," he said. "Other countries don't have our volatility in terms of saying yes or no. But they have a different problem — referendums. And I'm not sure which one is worse."
Calgary was also in the running for 2026 until it withdrew after voters rejected the bid in a referendum. Likewise, a half-dozen European bidders withdrew from contention for the 2022 Winter Games. They were awarded to Beijing, which won by four votes over Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The biggest concern for Milan-Cortina might be an ongoing conflict with the government over the distribution of financial funding for domestic sports.
Under current conditions, CONI decides how to divide the more than 400 million euros ($450 million) in annual funding from the government between the various national sports federations. If the function is removed, it would greatly reduce CONI's power.
But the government on Thursday sent a letter of support for the bid to the IOC.
"This government knows that one of the strongest — if not the strongest — factors of our bid is the strength of our Olympic committee," said Malago, who recently became the 22nd Italian member in IOC history — and one of three current Italian members.
While Malago lives in Rome, he also has homes in Milan and Cortina.
"I have a complete conflict of interest," he acknowledged. "I was practically born in Cortina. I've been going there since I was 5."
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf