The floor-to-ceiling windows in Andrea Varnier’s 44-room office offer a view of Milan and the other mountains that will host the 2026 Winter Olympics, but Varnier jokes that the panorama is not for him. He is not in this office, he admits. He usually uses a desk. There’s no time to be quiet, he says with a shrug.
The Milan-Cortina Winter Games are still almost three years away. But Varnier, a veteran of previous Olympics in Turin, Rio de Janeiro and Beijing, knows better than that how those years will turn out. They also know how much work is left.
What the organizers of Milan-Cortina and the International Olympic Committee are planning for 2026 The largest Winter Games in history: skating and hockey in Milan, the most visited place in northern Italy; freestyle skiing and snowboarding in Livigno, near the Swiss border; biathlon in Anterselva, a German-speaking region in the shadow of Austria; and curling, bobsled and Alpine skiing in Cortina d’Ampezzo, site of the 1956 Winter Games.
Good news? About 90 percent of the venues for the Games are already in place, Olympic officials said. Bad? Around two major areas, the Olympic village and the hockey arena, still in the early stages of constructionand large projects such as highways and railways are beyond the control of planners.
In an interview last month in an office he rarely uses, Varnier, who took over the top job last November, discussed overseeing an event spread over 8,500 miles; how Italy’s example could be the future of the Olympics; and what keeps him awake at night.
This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.
The IOC has recently adopted a new format for the Olympic Games. Torino was great. Vancouver was great. Beijing was great. But is this big?
This is definitely great.
So you’re creating competitive teams and not just one page?
We have four parts of them. In addition, the final ceremony in the Roman amphitheater in Verona. Which adds an element of fun, but also an added bonus. But the idea of the Winter Games is that they must spread because no mountain city or mountain village can support the Games.
That’s why you need Milan.
You want the city. So it’s always a city somewhere. And a mountain close enough to it. It goes forward. That’s Torino. So Vancouver. Then Beijing. Here it is different. It’s a completely different concept. The idea here is, first of all, to go to the infrastructure and events. So that’s how it was chosen.
So there is Milan, which is the most modern city we have in this country, but where there is no special tradition of winter sports. But it’s Milan. Then we go to Cortina, with its history and experience in Alpine skiing. They have a very strong tradition in bending. He has an amazing record in bobsleigh and skiing. Then we go to Anterselva: This is one of the best, most famous biathlon pages in the world. Then we have the Val di Fiemme, where Nordic sports are a very old tradition. Several editions of the international competition. So there is already construction. Yes, we have to change. But it already exists, so we don’t have to build it.
A lot of competition sites already exist, which can save on budget and time. But how do you put all these things together?
It is important that we understand that there is a new plan. Because if this proposal works, it will mean more opportunities for other countries to participate in the Games. So transportation, for example: We’re going to create transportation in groups, and then we’re going to encourage the use of public transportation between groups as much as possible.
We are trying to organize the whole plan of the Games, and we hope to leave it as a legacy for future organizing committees or cities that will be there, to be able to think about the Games in larger areas, to affect more people, using the existing infrastructure.
Is it because the IOC cannot ask cities or countries to spend $50 billion, as Russia did for the Sochi Games? Because no one wants to receive it?
The danger is that no one can do the Games in Europe. Winter Games. The Summer Games are a different story. And Europe, after all, is the heart of winter sports. I mean, with all due respect to everyone: He was born here, and the Alps are the Alps.
The game should go everywhere, and in as many countries as possible. But if we don’t find another plan, it will be very difficult for Europe. Because, I mean, this country is still a G7 country, and if you can’t pay for the Games, then who can afford the Games?
When you think about setting up events in different places for people, it’s like running multiple Games at once.
In a way, yes. But the point we want is that, first of all, it is the same thread that connects everything and the situation you are living. Of course, games are different, but that’s how it is.
What is the relationship with the IOC? After Pyeongchang and Beijing, they should feel free to return to their familiar surroundings.
I cannot answer on behalf of the IOC, but it is a great consolation for us as the organizing committee, and I assure them. They are very concerned because they see us as an opportunity to achieve the Winter Games. Because some things we start now may be strange in the future.
What keeps you up at night?
Oh, so many things. But most of the time it is short. We need to make up for lost time.
You must understand that the organizing committee started in January 2020, because the games were in June 2019, and this country. it was completely closed for three and a half months, actually. And it was very difficult to start such an organization in a new way. Then the plague continued and then ended the war began, so it was a difficult time. Now we have no more excuses.
Another challenge is getting companies to meet the budget share that should be provided by domestic partners. And you can’t include friends, at a reasonable price, for the last six months. So this is a very important thing for me.
I like to sleep, but this worries me: time and money.