There's only one story here and it's not a horse race

Absent some freaky event between now and then, at its annual assembly in late June the International Olympic Committee almost surely will award Stockholm the 2026 Winter Olympics. There’s a joke for this 2026 race that’s apropos. In the aftermath of this week’s news of government support in Sweden for the project, there now seems little sense in waiting more than two months to tell it.

So here goes: who does the IOC want to win for 2026?

1. Stockholm

2. Anyplace not named Milan

3. Milan

The problem with pretty much all the journalism on the 2026 Winter Games race is that it totally has missed the blindingly obvious point. Which is — see above. 

IOC 2026 evaluation chair Octavian Morariu, left, with senior IOC member Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden, right, in Falun, Sweden, on the IOC tour last month // photo Ulf Palm / AFP // Getty Images

IOC 2026 evaluation chair Octavian Morariu, left, with senior IOC member Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden, right, in Falun, Sweden, on the IOC tour last month // photo Ulf Palm / AFP // Getty Images

Journalism, especially political journalism, and an IOC election is indisputably sports politics, is far too often reduced to horse race-style reportage. Some outlet might say: Candidate A seems to have taken a lead based on such-and-such a development. Or: in an apparently significant turn in the race, Candidate B met with group so-and-so.

This is often, to be honest, fake news. 

Journalism is storytelling; all storytelling necessarily involves tension; this kind of horse race-stuff serves, artificially, to inject tension into a narrative when there genuinely is none.

And in the context of the 2026 Winter Games candidature process, journalism that seeks to make it a horse race does no one any sort of service.

There’s only one story here:

A wealthy western European democracy, in Scandinavia, no less, and in this time of Trump and Brexit, has bought into IOC president Thomas Bach’s program of reforms, the 2014 40-piece Agenda 2020, and the follow-on proposition, 2018’s 118-point New Norm.

In Olympic world, that buy-in is bigger than big.

The Stockholm plan is a Winter Games version for 2026 of what Los Angeles will produce for 2028 — a privately financed Games. 

The bid budget: $1.63 billion. Projected surplus: $40,000. Essentially, break-even.

By the way, if the Stockholm model turns out to be truly like LA, a $40,000 surplus has to be absurdly low. 

It’s just math. This space had previously predicted as much, but Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti now says it for the record — referring to the 2028 Games, the mayor, in an interview in Bloomberg touting the “loud economic boom” in LA on his watch, declared: “… We expect to net north of a billion dollars.

How can — no, will — Stockholm make money? Because the IOC itself is contributing $925 million to start. And because almost everything is already built, with venues across the country — actually, even in neighboring Latvia.

Ice events would be in Stockholm; alpine in Åre; Nordic in Falun; sliding sports in Sigulda, Latvia.

This is the key: stuff has to be built already. What dooms a Games, budget-wise, is when it’s the spur for accompanying infrastructure projects. If you’re not building, it’s relatively simple for the operating budget to stay in the black, or produce a surplus, perhaps even something big.

The national government is expected to oversee security, visa support and human rights protection, increasingly a focus to the IOC as well. The mayor of Stockholm, Anna König Jerlmyr, has said the city would rent, “on market terms,” its facilities to make the Games work. 

“The important thing,” she said, “is that a possible Winter Olympics 2026 does not burden Stockholm’s taxpayers.

You can almost hear the echoes — this was exactly what California taxpayers said in the run-up to 1984. 

How’d that work out?

1984: $232.5 million surplus. A legacy that has seen the investment of literally hundreds of millions of dollars into youth sports in and around Southern California. 

Stockholm put on the 1912 Summer Games but — though it is one of the most successful winter sports nations — has never staged the Winter Olympics. The IOC wants to go back to Scandinavia, where memories of Lillehammer in 1994 still resonate with affection across the globe; the IOC was deeply stung when Oslo pulled out of the race for 2022, which ended up going to Beijing. Moreover, the IOC is profoundly relationship-driven and Sweden’s Gunilla Lindberg, who was the IOC’s chief link to last year’s PyeongChang Games, is a key Bach ally and one of the most respected figures in the Olympic scene.

Let’s be clear.

Giovanni Malago, with his extensive business and sports experience, is as shrewd and smart as they come; a new IOC member and head of the Italian national Olympic committee, he is overseeing the Milan bid. 

Milan is a beautiful city. Cortina is an amazing ski destination. The Italians love the notion of the Winter Olympics, with poll support in the 80s, numbers that rival LA. 

Beyond: who doesn’t love to eat — and drink — Italian, in Italy? 


Everyone who is anyone within the IOC remembers, and vividly, the near-catastrophe that was the organization of the Torino 2006 Winter Games. 

This 2026 process is not taking place in a vacuum, as if politics and history — in IOC circles, recent history, indeed — didn’t happen. 

It’s not just that Torino was a cluster — and by cluster, for those of you who know American slang, we’re not talking venues.

Let us revisit the two recent Rome — 2020 and 2024 — candidacies. Start, stagger, stop. In pulling out for 2020, then-Italian prime minister Mario Monti said the country’s economic concerns made commitment to a Games “irresponsible.” When the plug was pulled for 2024, Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, said the city had more pressing priorities — like picking up garbage. On that occasion, Malago said Italy had been “made to look like fools.” 

Yes, the Italian government days ago signed a guarantee letter supporting the Milan bid that purports to promise up to $466 million to fulfill requirements. 

Serious question: why is that necessarily credible?

Before anyone gets all huffy just for asking that question: who wants to guarantee that this government, with the mountain of debt that Italy is facing (hello, EU bureaucrats), will be in business six months from now? 18? Two years? Much less seven? And that its full faith and credit is — just that?

Is anyone asking this sort of question about Sweden?

As if.

But it doesn’t matter.

This is why the notion of a privately financed Games is — in western Europe — a historic breakthrough. 

This is also why, at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, even though they dare not say a word publicly, they must be breaking out the champagne.

Careful here: not the prosecco. That would be different. 

The IOC would not dare — nor does it have any reason to — denigrate its Italian friends. Bach has also noted, repeatedly, that the IOC candidature process produces too many “losers” — and, to that point, for 2026 five of the original seven entrants have fallen out, leaving only Stockholm and Milan.

It may even suit an IOC PR interest — it’s going to issue an evaluation report on May 24 — to  promote suspense heading toward the election itself, in June, in Lausanne.

That would, once more, fall into the category of fake news.

What matters here is elemental.

For nearly five years, Bach has been beating the Agenda 2020 drum. His task is nothing less than to move the IOC, and by extension the broader Olympic movement, into the 21st century. To do that, he has to move the Games away from taxpayer revolt and the specter of the killer referendum by pivoting toward a model that, as this space has noted time and again, is like Los Angeles — as it was in 1984 and will be in 2028.

In LA for ’28, he has what he needs for the Summer Games.

Now he needs that same play — an affirmation, if you will — for 2026, and the Winter. 

Voila — Stockholm. 

If you want a horse race, go to the track.

In the meantime, if you want to bet, like you do at the track, here is the way the IOC really works: don’t bet against the president, and what he wants.