ZURICH: The Swiss government threw its weight behind a bid to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, promising on Wednesday to provide up to 1 billion Swiss francs (£772.8 million) to support the campaign.
It was a rare signal of support for hosting the Games after voters in the Austrian city of Innsbruck gave a thumbs down to the idea on Sunday, joining around a dozen cities that have pulled out of the running.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), based in the Swiss city of Lausanne, has been struggling in recent years to convince potential hosts of the benefits of hosting the Games.
The Swiss government embraced the idea enthusiastically.
"The government sees the Olympic Winter Games as a great opportunity for sport, the economy and society in Switzerland," it said after a cabinet meeting approved public support for the Sion 2026 campaign.
It set conditions that the project primarily uses existing infrastructure and focuses on sustainability by spreading events over various cantons (states) and relying on public transport.
The plan still needs support from parliament and could face referendums in cantons hosting events. Sion is in the canton of Valais, in the southwest of the country.
Switzerland hosted the Winter Games in 1928 and 1948, both times in St Moritz in the eastern canton of the Grisons. Voters in that canton in February rejected raising money for pursuing a bid.
The IOC said on Tuesday said it would take a more "pro-active role" with potential 2026 host cities, introducing a non-committal "dialogue stage" running from October this year to October 2018.
Bids from Kazakhstan, Turkey, Japan, Canada and the United States among others are still likely.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Alison Williams)