In October 2017, when Switzerland’s Federal Council announced the government would stand behind Sion’s bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, it sparked a backlash.
A survey run by Tamedia in February 2018 suggests 59% of the Swiss public are against the bid, according to RTS.
The estimated cost to Swiss taxpayers is close to CHF 1 billion. Other costs, to be borne by the host canton Valais and other cantons, are expected on top of this federal government contribution.
Olympic budgets have a habit of overrunning and some are concerned this bid would be similar. The recent Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang were estimated to cost $3.5 billion – $9.5 billion, but ended up costing $12.9 billion, according to Forbes.
Some, like Jean-Pascal Fournier of the Green Party, also think the games have become too commercialized and corrupt.
Last week, Switzerland’s parliament accepted a motion to put the decision to voters. 92 voted in favour, 87 against and 7 abstained. Socialist Party and Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP) members were most supportive of the idea of a federal referendum.
The Federal Council was against the idea arguing that the timetable is too tight – Olympic bids must be placed by January 2019. Silva Semadeni, the parliamentarian behind the motion reckons the vote could be run in February 2019, early enough for the bid to be withdrawn – the final decision by the International Olympic Committee is scheduled for autumn 2019.
A federal referendum might not be required. The canton of Valais, where the city of Sion is located, will put the Olympic bid to a cantonal vote in June 2018. If voters in Valais reject it the bid will be finished and there will be no need to run a referendum at a federal level.
Similar cantonal-level votes in the canton of Graubunden resulted in the rejection of Winter Olympic bids in 2013 and 2017.
Parliament’s decision to hold a referendum now needs approval by the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house.