ATR First: Fasel - Winter Olympics at Risk

(ATR) Ice hockey fed chief says collapse of Innsbruck 2026 Olympics bid “a huge problem”.

(ATR) The collapse of the Innsbruck bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics should be ringing alarm bells, says International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel.

"You know what, I’m very sad. I was nearly in shock. I was following on Sunday when I was travelling and I was following more or less the results and at the beginning it looked not too bad and people were expecting a yes," Fasel tells Around the Rings two days after the referendum in the Tyrol region that quashed a bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

With slightly more than 300,000 residents voting, the Olympic bid was rejected with a 53 percent to 46 percent majority. Among voters in Innsbruck, the city that has hosted the 1964 and 1976 Olympics as well as the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012, the no vote rose to 67 percent.

"I was really surprised especially about the results in Innsbruck, this is very disappointing," Fasel says.

"There is a huge problem after all the negative results we had in Germany, Switzerland, and Innsbruck, in Austria a winter sports place. Innsbruck having twice the Olympic Games and then this number, this is a huge concern," he says.

Fasel, says he believes the source of public disaffection comes from the cost of the Games and the image of the IOC.

"So I think we -- the sports federations -- have to sit together and sit with the IOC about how can we change this," says Fasel, an IOC member in Switzerland for 22 years and IIHF president since 1994.

"In November I’m looking forward to having a meeting with the winter sports federations and the IOC. We really have to rethink everything about the winter sports, the costs," his voice over the phone carrying the urgency of survival.

Cost-Cutting, Image Repair Needed

Fasel notes a disconnect between the cost of the Winter Olympics -- which the IOC wants to lower to $1.5 billion from the current range of $2 billion -- and the world championships held by the seven international federations in the Games.

He says the combined costs of the world championships -- competitions comparable to the Olympics -- is $250 million.

Fasel admits the image of the IOC has been part of the problem. Accusations that IOC members were paid for their vote in favor of Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics have surfaced in the past month. Carlos Nuzman, the man who led the Rio 2016bidand the Brazilian Olympic Committee, has been stripped of his titles and is now in jail for a second week. The ex-IOC member is suspected as a ringleader in the vote-buying scheme.

The timing was bad for Innsbruck, Fasel says. But the Nuzman affair could also be factor in Switzerland where the federal government is now considering what to do about plans by Sion to bid for the 2026 Winter Games. Without initial approval from Berne, the bid won’t move forward at the local level in the Valais Canton. A referendum there is also possible.

But image problems for the IOC preceded the Nuzman affair, Fasel says, noting that six months ago voters in St. Moritz heartily rejected plans to bid for 2026. The locale is one of the fabled places in Switzerland for winter sport andeven has a bobsleigh track.

Fasel has grave worries about whether the Sion bid will survive public disfavor.

"You know friends are telling me, it’s not done. Even Valais, the Canton has been very active, the people there are risk takers. So this is really a concern," say Fasel.

He says the Olympics' image problem is more than bad behavior by some members. The size of the Olympics is an issue to be tackled, says Fasel.

"We have to reduce the costs by hundreds of millions and improve our image. We will have 340 events in Tokyo. I cannot understand that -- 340 events. In the Summer Games. This is not possible," he says.

"Agenda 2020 is not enough," says Fasel about the 40-point plan adopted unanimously by the IOC in 2014. The agenda is meant to cut the cost and complexity of the Olympic Games and improve IOC governance. He believes more pointed action is needed to reduce size.

"We have to reduce the number of events, we have to do this step for the future of the Winter and Summer Olympic Games," says Fasel.

"It’s crazy. I hope and I think the IOC will react and sit together and put everything on the table. We have to do something to improve our image in the Winter and Summer Games".

Fasel spoke to Around the Rings on the day the IOC officially launched the process to select a host for the 2026 Winter Games.

New Schedule

National Olympic Committees have until next March to nominate candidates cities under a revised schedule inspired by Olympic Agenda 2020. The actual bid phase will last just over one year, at least half the time of previous campaigns.

There will be fewer questions and less documentation required from the candidate cities. Ongoing dialogue and consultation with the IOC is also encouraged as a way to shape games to fit the city.

Planning for 2026

With referendums already ending 2026 bid plans from Germany, Austria and in St. Moritz, the IOC's options are dwindling, not unlike what happened for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

After four cities dropped out, mostly due to low public or government support, Beijing and Almaty, the two longshots at the start of the race, were the last two candidates cities remaining. Beijing was the winner.

At the moment, the possibilities for 2026 remaining would be Calgary, host of the 1988 Winter Games. Government leaders are trying to decide whether to proceed.

The U.S. is now taking steps to determine if it might launch a candidacy. Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Games, Denver, and Reno-Tahoe are the immediate possibilities. The USOC must carefully weigh a 2026 bid against conflicts that might result with Los Angeles, host of the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Continuing in the vein of past Olympic host cities, Sapporo has been quietly preparing to launch a bid as an encore to 1972. Almaty is the other Asian city which could be in the mix for 2026.

The possibility of a dual award of the Winter Olympics is not out of the question after the experience this year with Paris and Los Angeles. That would give the IOC the certainty of Olympic host cities for summer and winter through 2030.

Reported by Ed Hula.