These are worrying times for the Winter Olympics.
If you want to comprehend how worrying, I would recommend a careful read of the recently-published Olympic Winter Games 2026 report by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission.
This scrutinises the two bids, from Sweden/Latvia and Italy respectively, that have somehow stumbled their way to the finishing-line.
The IOC will pick the winner just under a month from now, at its Session in Lausanne on June 24.
To be blunt, and based solely on study of the dispassionate 144-page report, it seems to me that one project is so full of holes that it would have been highly unlikely to survive this long in any previous Winter Games race for at least the last 30 years - and I don’t mean just because the rules governing how close together venues need to be have been relaxed.
The other project looks to have fewer obvious weaknesses; but, if selected, it may ultimately require a significant re-jig of its venue proposals, including possible use of a facility in another country.
Let’s start with the Swedish/Latvian proposal.
This is branded Stockholm Åre 2026. And yet, "the Municipality of Stockholm has stated that it would not sign the Host City Contract". It is "thus not an official Host City".
Instead, the Municipality of Åre - "a picturesque lakeside mountain resort with 11,500 inhabitants located 600km northwest of Stockholm" - is proposed as signatory of the contract, along with the Swedish Olympic Committee (SOK).
"Having only Åre as a signatory of the HCC, without Stockholm," would, the report says, "require strong financial support from private guarantors to ensure fulfilment of the contractual requirements and delivery of the Games".
And yet: the Games delivery guarantee would, we are told, "be provided through a multilayer mechanism combining different types of safeguards to include corporate guarantees, insurance and a contingency reserve".
Furthermore, "at the time of writing, the names of the institutions or companies, as well as their level of financial contribution, remain to be determined".
If this doesn’t lodge doubts in your mind, notwithstanding the appeal of staging a Winter Olympics in a Nordic nation, turn to page 38 of the report, dealing with the projected budget.
Here one reads: "The IOC contribution from the TOP sponsorship programme and broadcast revenues of US$652 million (US$ 2026) has not been appropriately discounted to 2018 US$ values.
"If discounted, this would create a significant gap in the 2018 US$ budget."
Moreover: "The candidature has projected TOP programme revenues of US$300 million (£236.7 million/€268 million). However, the IOC had advised a figure of US$200 million (£157.8 million/€178.6 million) to be used in the budget and cannot guarantee a higher figure at this point."
Judging by the budget for the rival bid Milan-Cortina 2026, which we are told "has been appropriately discounted", the expected revenue from these two sources should be somewhere around $572 million (£451 million/€511 million), as opposed to the $752 million (£593 million/€672 million) incorporated into the Swedish budget.
So that appears tantamount to a "gap" of something like $180 million (£142 million/€161 million) in a projected revenue total of less than $1.52 billion (£1.2 billion/€1.36 billion).
Public support figures are less than impressive, at between 54 and 59 per cent, against between 80 and 87 per cent for Milan-Cortina.
Meanwhile, on the venue front, while "letters of intent have been provided, binding venue funding guarantees for the new venues: the Stockholm Olympic Village, the speed skating oval and the cross-country and biathlon venue, are still to be submitted".
Regarding the last of these, the IOC Commission has in any case "expressed concerns regarding venue funding, remediation of the site and legacy use", although the report also notes that existing World Cup venues could perhaps be used instead.
All in all, it looks like a formidable litany of shortcomings for bid backers to address at this advanced stage in the contest.
And this is without touching on other matters, such as the location of Åre, Sigulda and Falun "in or adjacent to protected nature areas", the relative shortage of daylight due to Sweden’s northern location and the need for spectators in Åre and Falun to rely on "alternative accommodation", as "nearly all star-rated hotel rooms would be needed for Games stakeholders".
The main concerns outlined regarding the Milan-Cortina bid - and some look considerable - involve venues.
The Milan Olympic Village is not scheduled to be completed until May 2025. The project, moreover, is said to be "dependent on private developers who still need to be appointed through a tender process".
On the other hand, "back-up funding, should a private investor fail to materialise, would be provided by the Lombardy region".
The Commission seems to have considerable concerns regarding the plan to refurbish the sliding track at Cortina, which, as the report notes, was opened in 1923 and has been closed since 2008 “due to a shortage of funding for the necessary renovation work”.
It thinks the investment budget for this project has been “considerably underestimated given the scale of the work”.
It flags up the “possibility of using an existing track elsewhere in Europe”.
The IOC inspectors also highlight concerns regarding “the financial viability of adding a roof to” the proposed speed skating venue in Baselga di Pine, said to be the highest oval in Europe.
Nor do they appear keen on the notion of having separate men’s and women’s Alpine skiing venues, in Bormio and Cortina, arguing that this could “increase operating costs and logistical complexities".
The report says that the International Ski Federation (FIS) has indicated that Cortina "could serve as the venue for all the Alpine skiing competitions".
While the Commission also notes that "transport in the three mountain clusters poses a significant challenge", one would have thought that extra traffic lured to Cortina by any move to concentrate Alpine skiing events at the venue could be compensated by a decision to use a sliding track outside the country.
Frankly, if IOC members base their decision solely on this report, it is hard to see how they could fail to plump for Milan-Cortina – even though the Winter Games would be returning to Italy just 20 years after Turin 2006.
Certainly the document should give Italian Olympic Committee President Giovanni Malagò, an experienced and persuasive operator among his IOC colleagues, plenty of bullets to fire.
The IOC has become a pretty supine institution under Thomas Bach, however.
Should the leadership go into bat for Åre (though I am not saying they will), that might yet be enough for the Games to head to Sweden.
The real story here though is the event’s waning allure.
Much hangs on Beijing 2022.