TOKYO — After finding it difficult to sell the 2026 Winter Olympics, the IOC finally has two countries that are all in: Sweden and Italy.
It's Stockholm, the capital of Sweden and the self-described capital of Scandinavia, up against a joint Italian bid of Milan — a global fashion capital— and the ski resort of Cortina d' Ampezzo.
"I will refrain from making any comments because I guess both candidate cities are in the room," International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Thursday, addressing a convention of 1,400 delegates from the world's 206 Olympic committees. "They will note every word I've said and go home and interpret it one way or the other."
Bach and the IOC have what they want: bids that will take the Winter Olympics back to a traditional venue after winter games in Russia, South Korea — and in 2022 in Beijing.
China got the games by attrition, winning by four votes over Almaty, Kazakhstan, after a half-dozen European bidders dropped out, discouraged by soaring costs and taxpayer backlash.
For 2026, it seems different with the IOC picking the winner in June in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Although several cities voted in referendums not to bid — including Calgary, Canada, earlier this month — and several dropped out, the two left standing have deep roots in snow and ice.
"These are two good bids, but we think it's time for Sweden," Peter Reinebo, the CEO of the Swedish Olympic Committee, told The Associated Press.
Sweden was host to the 1912 Olympics, but has never held the Winter Games. Italy has held two Winter Olympics — 1956 in Cortina d'Ampezzo and 2006 in Turin — and the Summer Games in Rome in 1960.
Both bidders say they are almost ready to go with little to build. The IOC says Stockholm would construct three new venues, and Italy will need one. The rest of the venues in both bids will be temporary, existing, or existing venues that will be refurbished.
Both say their operating budgets will be about $1.5 billion, which is the budget for running the games themselves. Both downplay the need for much government spending, although Olympic costs — always difficult to track — often double, or triple.
The Milan-Cortina bid already has a pledge of added funding support from the national government. But most of the load will be on two wealthy regional governments of Lombardy and Veneto, and the private sector.
Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago described the bid as "the efficiency of a great metropolis with the charm of the mountains. It is a great display of teamwork with a single goal: to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games back to Italy."
Skating sports and hockey would be held in Milan, with Alpine skiing and sliding events in Cortina, which will hold the 2021 world ski championships. Other snow sports like snowboarding and freestyle skiing could be contested in Bormio and Livigno north of Milan.
Other venues are also in play across northern Italy.
"It's a race, we have to arrive first," said Danilo di Tommaso, spokesman for the Italian Olympic Committee.
Stockholm's main obstacle is that Sweden is between governments. A new national government could be formed as early as next week — or it might take months. Swedish officials have warned the IOC about the circumstances.
"In one way or another we are going to get support," Peter Reinebo, the CEO of the Swedish Olympic Committee, told AP. "We have almost all the venues. We don't need the financial guarantees, the financial support of the government."
Richard Brisius, chief executive of the Stockholm bid, said the process has been "100 small steps, and we have taken 90."
Reinebo said any building project — a new ice arena, or a new Nordic ski circuit — would be funded by local governments or private capital. He said a new ice arena in Stockholm was optional.
The bid calls for using a sliding venue in Sigulda, Latvia. The Big Air events will be held in the Stockholm Olympic Stadium, built in 1912 and still in use. And Alpine is set for Are, which will also hold the 2019 world ski championships.
"Latvia is a country that wouldn't be able to host the games," Per Palmstrom, vice president of the Swedish Olympic Committee, told AP. "But now they are able to partner ours. So they love it."