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    IOC president Bach discusses ‘challenges’ for 2026 Games

    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 (IOC) President Thomas Bach to acknowledge the “challenges” facing organisers 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 on 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,” Bach said.

    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.

    International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. PHOTO: AP

    Italian authorities have set aside more than EUR80 million (USD80 million) to renovate the historic sliding track in Cortina for bobsled, luge and skeleton races.

    Bach also supported local authorities who are waiting until after the election to appoint a new chief executive officer (CEO) of the organising committee after the departure of Vincenzo Novari – a move which has paralysed 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 kilometres across a vast swath of northern Italy – from the regions of Lombardy and Veneto to the provinces of Trento and Bolzano.

    The 2026 organisers 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 surprising.

    But President of the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation Ivo Ferriani pointed to a century of sliding history in Cortina. The Cortina track was built in 1923 and 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.

    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.

    He said that its proximity to 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 Piné in the Trentino region.

    The last time Olympic speedskating was held outdoors was for the 1992 Albertville Games, with the IOC preferring 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.

    “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.”

    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 United States 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.

    “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 (it),” Bach said. “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.

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