IOC official 'very happy' with possible Innsbruck 2026 bid

SOELDEN, Austria (AP) Innsbruck would have ''an excellent chance'' of hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics if the Austrian city decides to bid for the games, a top IOC official said Friday.

International Olympic Committee executive board member Gian Franco Kasper told The Associated Press that Innsbruck would need to join with other cities - probably Salzburg and venues in Italy or Germany - to be able to stage all events.

''They will have to find probably some partners. Nowadays it's possible with the new Agenda 2020,'' Kasper said, referring to the IOC's reform program that allows more flexibility in hosting the games, including the possibility of using venues in other cities, and even in neighboring countries.

''They can go to northern Italy, to Bolzano for instance, with ice hockey,'' Kasper said. ''They could go to Munich also with (events on) ice. They could go to Salzburg, which is another possibility. All the outdoor sports can be done in Innsbruck directly. That could be good games.''

Kasper, who is president of the International Ski Federation, spoke a day after Austrian officials announced a feasibility study into a possible Innsbruck bid.

He said he's ''very happy'' with the initiative by the Austrian Olympic Committee, the city of Innsbruck and the province of Tyrol, who jointly announced the study into financial, infrastructural and economic aspects of a potential candidacy.

Innsbruck has hosted the Winter Games twice, in 1964 and 1976. Since then, Austria had several failed bids, most recently with Salzburg for the 2014 Games.

If the feasibility study is positive outcome, a referendum will be held. Lack of public support has recently been a stumbling block for many potential bid cities. In Austria, Vienna backtracked from plans to bid for the 2024 or 2028 Summer Olympics after a vast majority of its inhabitants voted against.

For various reasons, all European candidates quit the race to host the 2022 Winter Games, which were awarded to Beijing. Potential bids from Germany and Switzerland were earlier rejected in referendums.

With the 2018 Games taking place in South Korea, Europe seems in a strong position for 2026, which would be its first Winter Games in two decades.

''The IOC, and especially president Thomas Bach, has indicated to us in several meetings that bids from traditional winter sports areas, who have decade-long experience with staging big events, have good prospects,'' Austrian Olympic Committee president Karl Stoss said.

''Innsbruck is predestined for sustainable, likable games as it proved once again with the Youth Olympics in 2012,'' Stoss added.

The IOC will accept bids for the 2026 Olympics next year, with the host to be chosen in 2019. Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine have also expressed interest in bidding.

''I wouldn't say it's Europe's turn (in 2026),'' Kasper said. ''We have been in Asia three times with Summer and Winter Games but Sapporo is also candidate for 2026. Sapporo is in Asia of course but has a good chance, too. We will have another four, five candidates, so we'll see.''

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