June 10, 2018 / 12:50 PM / 14 days ago

Swiss Winter Olympic bid derailed after voters reject funding

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss voters killed off their country’s chances of hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics on Sunday after refusing to approve financial support for the bid in a poll.

Some 54 percent of voters in the southern canton of Valais rejected granting 100 million Swiss francs ($101.5 million)towards the event, according to provisional results from the Valais government.

The decision spells the end of the Swiss bid to host the Games, which were to be centred on the city of Sion, after the campaign team threw in the towel.

“This is the end of the project to bring the Winter Olympics to Sion in 2026,” said campaign spokesman Alexander Waefler.

“We couldn’t convince a majority of voters that this was a reasonable and sustainable project. In the end it’s all about the money and people were concerned it would become too expensive.”

The Swiss campaign will be formally wound up in the coming days after a review, he said.

Residents of a number of towns and cities have in recent years baulked at the cost and disruption associated with hosting Olympic Games.

Switzerland’s exit leaves Canada’s Calgary, Austria’s Graz, Stockholm, Turkey’s Erzurum, Japan’s Sapporo and an Italian bid involving Cortina d’Ampezzo, Milan and Turin, as the remaining candidate venues.

The International Olympic Committee will invite candidates to bid formally at a session in October, with the host city to be selected in September 2019

Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, voters in Valais were asked to approve of the funding, which would be used for security and to build permanent sporting infrastructure.

The Valais government had supported the bid, saying hosting the games would boost the region’s profile and could contribute about 2 billion Swiss francs to the local and national economy.

The final budget for the Games would be around 2.4 billion francs, with the Swiss government contributing almost 1 billion francs to that figure, pending parliamentary approval.

However, opponents had raised fears that the Games would go over budget and that the money would be better spent on roads, hospitals and social services.

The IOC, which is based in Switzerland, has overhauled the bidding process for Games after a sharp slump in interest from potential hosts in recent years, reducing costs for bid cities and cutting the campaign time in half.

The IOC said it was disappointed with the result, adding that its reforms had not been taken into consideration by voters concerned about high hosting costs.

“The impact of these reforms is clearly illustrated by the case of the last edition of the Olympic Winter Games, PyeongChang 2018, for which a multimillion-dollar surplus was announced,” the Lausanne-based organisation said.

“According to the PyeongChang 2018 Organising Committee, this was only possible thanks to the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020 and close cooperation with the IOC.”

Additional reporting by Angelika Gruber; Editing by Keith Weir and David Goodman

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