Little sign of Olympics in Milan with only three years remaining

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MILAN—Perched incongruously on the 44th floor of one of Milan’s modern glass skyscrapers is a ski lodge.

The “baita,” which is made of reclaimed wood from trees felled in a devastating storm that hit northern Italy in 2018, is in the headquarters of the organizing committee for the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympics.

The offices themselves are festooned with Olympic rings, which also adorn the key cards guests are given to access the building. But outside, you’d be hard pressed to find any sign that the Winter Games are coming to Milan in less than three years.

The 50,000-square-meter site that will house the Palitalia, where hockey is scheduled to take place, is currently an overgrown wasteland. And construction work has only just started at the area where the Olympic Village will be situated.

Nowhere is there even the inkling of an Olympic ring.

The organizing committee has admitted there have been delays because of the coronavirus pandemic and rising costs due in part to the war in Ukraine, but Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi said there is nothing to be concerned about.

“What you don’t see is actually what generates a lot of time,” Dubi said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s the administrative, the permitting and then acquiring any of the companies that will deliver the job.

“Once it starts, it goes quick … but I want to be clear, the timelines that we have received have to be respected. So far they are, but they have to be respected.”

And the International Olympic Committee (IOC) director warns that they will keep a close eye on matters to see that deadlines are met.

“What is really critical is the constant monitoring. You have to hit all the milestones and this is how you control projects,” Dubi said. “So no reason to worry. But as in everything, inspect what you expect and this is what we are going to do.”

One of the key features of Milan-Cortina’s winning bid in 2019 was the use of existing structures. That included the San Siro for the opening ceremony.

The Milan soccer clubs that use the stadium have long been in talks about rebuilding it and there were question marks over whether the ceremony would take place in the proposed new arena or the existing one.

“But for us it’s the San Siro,” Dubi said before highlighting a visit made to the stadium with the coordination commission in December. “The whole point was to pay tribute to the stadium and to look forward to what will happen, which is the opening of the games. So that’s definitely where we’re going.

“We know that there are a number of adjustments that are made to the stadium which will be ready for the games.”

There are also issues surrounding some of the facilities that need to be built. Plans to hold speedskating at Baselga di Piné have been scrapped after authorities deemed the project too expensive. Milan has offered to host it at Fiera exhibition center, while another option could be the existing indoor oval built for the 2006 Turin Olympics.

The building of the bobsled track in Cortina has also proved contentious because of spiralling costs but an offer to host it at the track in Innsbruck, Austria — that is due to be renovated—has been rejected.

“We were always clear with the IOC and our partners that if it’s built—and of course now the construction has started, or I should say rather the demolition, which is the first step — we are going to be users in the end because we always felt that it was not necessarily needed for the games,” Dubi said. “Now there was a decision made and we respect this decision.”

It will be the first time Italy has hosted the Olympics since 2006. But with an ever-dwindling pool of countries that can feasibly hold a Winter Olympics because of climate change, Dubi said the IOC is considering the option of rotating hosts and heralded “a new era” of the Olympics in “using what already exists.”

“Territory shouldn’t adapt to the games, but the games should adapt to the territory,” he said. “So we have a lot to learn from Milano-Cortina, but there are also key decisions to be made in the future.

“For example, should we rotate between games hosts in the future? Is it something that is appealing for winter sports, appealing for those hosts? And we tend to believe it is the case. Northern Italy ‘06, ’26, Sapporo, Salt Lake City is interested as well in the future. So is there a trend whereby once you have invested, you want to re-host in the future? So we need to look into that.”

Dubi said that is partly why they are taking their time to appoint a host for the 2030 Winter Olympics.

Sweden, which lost out to Milan-Cortina in the 2026 Olympic vote, is emerging as a frontrunner, although Dubi said there are five others interested but would not name them.

“The executive board told us, ‘Hey, hang on. You pause for a few months, you get back to us with, with some strategic thinking.’ And whether it’s in 2024 or onwards, let’s say that that’s not so important. We need to have the right strategy,” he said. “Imagine those games (Milan-Cortina) we awarded them seven years out. But one could argue that you can do with less … if anywhere you go, everything is ready, 100% built, no reason to award the game seven years out. So we’re not really in a rush. We want to do the right thing.”

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