Milan and the Alpine resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo won the right to host the 2026 Winter Olympics earlier this week when the IOC chose the Northern Italian duo over the Swedish capital of Stockholm and the village of Åre. While the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made a variety of recent positive moves on climate in recent years, including signing on to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework, GreenSportsBlog wanted to know if the IOC made the best choice from a climate perspective.
It only took one ballot to decide the matter.
Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo won 47 of the IOC committee votes cast, Stockholm-Åre garnered 34 votes, and there was one abstention. Cortina hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956. Sweden was seeking to host the Winter Games for the first time.
Members of the delegation from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo react after the Italian cities were named to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games (Photo credit: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)
Sustainability figured prominently in the discussion of Italy’s win by the IOC’s top brass.
“We can look forward to outstanding and sustainable Olympic Winter Games in a traditional winter sports country,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in his congratulatory message.
Of course Bach likely would’ve said the same thing had the Swedish duo been victorious — both bids offered robust sustainability plans.
And let’s be honest: Neither sustainability nor climate change were the main reasons Milan-Cortina won the day. Much more likely, per polling conducted by the IOC, it was a lack of enthusiasm for the project in Sweden — rating 28 percent below the Italians — that turned out to be a decisive factor.
But what if climate change had been the sole criterion on which voters would make their decision? Which bid should have prevailed in that case?
It turns out the answer is a bit complicated as both the Swedes and the Italians had sustainability points in their favor.
According to an article in the June 24 issue of The Conversation by Mark Wilson and Eva Kassens-Noor, Professor and Associate Professor, respectively, of Urban and Regional Planning at Michigan State University, “hosting in Stockholm and…Åre would have been more practical for a simple reason: It’s colder there and the Swedish region gets far more natural snow than Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.”
With images of Sochi 2014 and its acres of man-made snow still clearly etched on my brain, it seemed to me that the bid that wins the natural snow battle should win the right to host the Winter Olympics if climate change is the only metric.
Artists rendering of the moguls venue for the 2026 Stockholm-Åre Winter Olympics bid (Sweden Olympic Committee)
But there is another side to this story.
Kassens-Noor, in an email exchange with GreenSportsBlog, also made strong points about the climate bona fides of the Italian bid.
She cited a 2014 study by three researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada and one from the Management Center of Innsbruck, Austria¹ that noted that “even under the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emission scenarios, Cortina D’Ampezzo is one of the four most climatically-reliable locations of all those cities that have hosted the Games before.” Of course, since the Winter Olympics have never visited Sweden (the 1912 Summer Olympics were held in Stockholm), the researchers did not study Stockholm-Åre. Still, Cortina earns climate reliability points.
Dr. Eva Kassens Noor, Associate Professor in the Global Urban Studies Program and the School of Planning, Design and Construction at Michigan State University (Photo credit: Eva Kassens-Noor)
And, per Kassens-Noor, the facts that the “the region has hosted the Games before” and that 93 percent of the Milan-Cortina Olympics venues already exist are significant climate-related advantages for the Italians.
GSB’S Take: Like most of you, I like a clear choice in my which-is-the-more-climate-friendly-Winter Olympic-bid decisions. Milan-Cortina vs. Stockholm-Åre was not clear cut.
While Cortina is one of the four most climate-reliable host cities of those that have hosted Olympics before, we don’t know where Stockholm-Åre would fall on that spectrum because they have never hosted a Winter Games. So, to me, we still don’t know which is the most climate-reliable between the two bids.
Thus it becomes a choice between natural snow/Stockholm-Åre and venues-already-exist/Milan-Cortina. The problem is, I haven’t seen emissions data on both of these metrics. So the choice becomes one from the gut.
My gut goes with the Italians and their existing facilities.
Then I hope it snows in the week or so before the Games in 2026.
Finally, it’s important to note, per Kassens-Noor, that both the Milan-Cortina and Stockholm-Åre bids were far superior, from a climate perspective than Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018. So progress is being made on climate and Winter Olympic bids.
¹ D. Scott, M. Rutty and P. Johnson, University of Waterloo. R. Steiger, Management Center, Innsbruck