Sweden could be new favourite to host 2030 Olympics with support of lawmakers, voters

Sweden emerging as the front-runner in a troubled search for a 2030 Olympics host is as much a surprise in Stockholm as elsewhere.

Previous candidates Canada, U.S., Japan all facing roadblocks in bid

Five people sit behind a table and speak into microphones with Swedish Olympic branding behind them.
Acting vice president of Swedish Olympic Committee, Hans von Uthmann, second from left, said Wednesday he sees a "window of opportunity" for his country to host the 2030 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. (Claudio Bresciani/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)

Sweden emerging as the front-runner in a troubled search for a 2030 Olympics host is as much a surprise in Stockholm as elsewhere.

The year started with Sweden not on the radar of a Winter Games race where longtime favourite Sapporo faded during a criminal investigation of alleged bribery linked to the recent Tokyo Olympics. Salt Lake City is targeting 2034.

An Indigenous-led bid to bring the Games to British Columbia hit a snag in October when the province announced it would not support the endeavour. However, the bid group, which is led by the Lil̓wat7úl (Líl̓wat), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) nations and also includes the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) and the municipalities of Vancouver and Whistler, has not yet conceded defeat.

In Sweden, memories are also fresh of a bruising loss for Stockholm-Are against Milan-Cortina d'Ampezzo in the 2026 Olympics vote — the Nordic country's eighth beaten candidate for the Winter Games.

The picture changed when Swedish officials met last month in Switzerland with International Olympic Committee leaders who faced uncertainty and time running out to find a 2030 host.

"We had a meeting in Lausanne in mid-January after the holidays," Swedish Olympic official Hans von Uthmann told The Associated Press on Thursday. "On our journey back we realized, `Hey, there really is an opening."'

Urging caution just one week after the Sweden Olympic Committee formally announced its interest, Von Uthmann said there is a June target to complete a feasibility study he is overseeing to reboot most of the 2026 plan.

Still, it could be Sweden's for the taking if it can revive most of the 2026 plan and persuade more lawmakers and voters for support.

It would certainly solve a problem for the IOC, which already postponed a decision it had wanted to make this year.

"We see clearly the window of opportunity," Von Uthmann said, though adding "obviously timing in terms of the world around us is difficult."

War in Ukraine presents possible issue

The Russian invasion of Ukraine created local and global issues for a Swedish bid, both in real world politics and inside the Olympic bubble.

"We are humbly aware that we are in the midst of an extremely difficult finance situation in Sweden, not to mention the NATO application," Von Uthmann said, referring to the government's diplomatic move to seek greater protection from possible Russian aggression.

Von Uthmann confirmed there will be an approach to Latvia to use its bobsleigh track at Sigulda that again seems essential for any Swedish bid.

That sets up an intriguing potential conflict for the IOC's separate Olympic Games and international relations departments.

Sweden and Latvia are among European Olympic bodies taking the toughest stand against the IOC's push to reintegrate some Russian and Belarusian athletes into qualifying events for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

"It is way too early, we are not there yet. The war is going on," Von Uthmann said, repeating Sweden's clear position in the current most heated Olympic debate.

"We feel it is not the time to start to discuss letting Russian and Belarusian athletes or officials into the Olympic family again," he said.

Questions about cost

Domestic issues in Stockholm may yet stop any candidacy moving forward, four years after the IOC clearly noted skepticism at home for the 2026 bid.

"Cost-wise there are many questions and we need to convince and show the Swedish population that this is actually to the advantage of Sweden," Von Uthmann said.

Two building projects suggested in 2026 — for biathlon/cross-country skiing and speed skating, the sport of Swedish Olympic champion Nils van der Poel — are unlikely to be included this time. Existing venues would take priority as the IOC prefers.

Athlete villages are the typical big-ticket Olympic projects, though Stockholm needs new housing so support from city authorities is expected, Von Uthmann suggested. No political commitments have yet been asked for nor given, and it is unclear if a public vote will be called.

The IOC has pointed Swedish officials to a July 2024 deadline — at its members' meeting on the eve of the Paris Olympics — to find a 2030 Winter Games host. At just 5-1/2 years before the opening ceremony, it would be the latest pick of a games host for any modern Olympics.

"We had a very strong concept and very good offer for the 2026 Olympics," Von Uthmann said, "and we will build on that."

With files from CBC Sports

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