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Winter Olympics 2026: the environmental and economic implications of a new sliding track

As the Winter Olympic Games are approaching, the Italian regions involved, Veneto, Lombardy and Trentino, are preparing for the event, renovating and building facilities to host the competition. Olympics are huge events, bringing benefits to the host country, for example increased tourism and new jobs. Naturally, these benefits come with a price. It is estimated that a winter olympic costs on average around 3 billions of euros. In addition, we should take into account the dramatic increase in the prices during the last years, escalating the already high costs.

Economic, environmental and social sustainability had a huge impact in Italy being chosen as the host country: organizers assured the International Olympic Committee they would work on projects with low environmental impact. In fact, one of the main advantages of the Alps territory was the possibility to reuse approximately 90% of existing infrastructure. Despite the good intentions, many problems have arisen during the years, leading to disagreements between the Milano-Cortina foundation and the Italian National Olympic Committee, CONI. During the last week one particular project has been under the spotlight and criticized by many: the reconstruction of the old sliding track “Eugenio Monti”, located in Cortina d’Ampezzo. 

“Eugenio Monti” track, source: ANSA


This track is recognized by many athletes and professionals as one of the most beautiful slopes in the world. The goal of the project is to reconstruct the old track, built in 1923 and closed in 2008 because of the unsustainable maintenance costs.

The main issue is that to meet the safety requirements of the international federation the track will have to be demolished and set up again.The initial budget for the operation, namely 60 millions, has sharply increased during the years, reaching in the latest documents the figure of 81 millions of euro.

Only one company participated in the tender of the Company Infrastrutture Milano Cortina 2020 – 2026 (SIMICO S.p.a) and is thus the one which will conduct the construction: the Pizzarotti Group, from Parma. The group will have to deal with the problem of time running short; in fact, the notice foresees 625 days of construction, while the yard started to be operational only 710 before the beginning of the olympics. Moreover, the track has to be finished much earlier, at least by the end of November 2024, for the tests and testing races that are essential to get the certification from the IOC. 

Works officially began on February 21st, with the cutting of about 500 trees, among those many ancient larches, necessary to make room for the layout of the facility. Local committees and environmental organizations are currently protesting against the decision, arguing it will have detrimental effects on the already fragile equilibrium of the Alpine region. Opponents of the project often argue that the brand-new track will not be used after the games, bringing as an example the history of the Cesana Torinese sliding track, built for the 2006 Olympics and abandoned in 2011. 

Cesana Torinese track, source: Rai News 


Considering the proven economic and environmental impact, a question arises: is a new sliding track necessary for the 2026 Olympics? That is what environmentalists, Italian citizens and Cortina’s municipality have been asking in the past months. 

The answer is simple and confirmed by the CONI: it is not. As a matter of fact, the Committee had initially discarded the hypothesis due to the exorbitant cost and extended duration required for reconstructing the old track. The constraints set by the IOC made it impossible to meet the deadlines. They indicated as a plan B the relocation of the sliding contests in a foreign country, with Austria as the first choice. 

Kristin Kloster, head of the Italian Games Committee, writes: 

“In line with the recommendations of the 2020 Olympic Agenda the IOC has been unequivocal in stating that no permanent facility should be built without a clear and visible plan of legacy”.

And continues reiterating the source of the funds for the construction: 

“It is crucial to repeat that the potential realization of a Sliding Center, in addition to other infrastructure works, concerns public investments that fall outside the competence of the organizing committee, Fondazione Milano Cortina 2026"

However, the persistent efforts of the Veneto Region persuaded Minister of Infrastructure Matteo Salvini to advocate and endorse a streamlined version of the project and the works finally began, despite the protests and without waiting for the CONI’s approval. Is the government allowed to do that? Yes, because as this is a contract of public work, supported by state funds, it won’t need neither CONI nor ICO positive opinions. 

Italy is indeed going ahead with the controversial plan: in the recent past, there has been no construction of a sliding track within such a brief time frame. This is urging organizers to engage in ongoing negotiations for a potential alternative Plan B in a neighboring country. Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games Executive Director, stresses the seriousness of respecting deadlines: the track must be ready by March 2025 to guarantee the safety of the athletes.

“On this we can’t compromise,” Dubi added. “It is coming from the international federations. So we have to go by their experience and their expertise no matter what, these are the conditions they have established.”

Martina Faggiani

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