ARE, Sweden (AP) — Looking to make one final push ahead of the vote to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, Swedish bid chiefs are calling on the country's most famous sports star to offer his backing.
Are you listening, Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
"It would be wonderful if Zlatan would join in the support," Richard Brisius, chief executive of the Stockholm-Are bid team, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I know he is very busy with what he is doing, but I also know that he loves Sweden in a way very few people do."
If he was to step up as the Swedish bid's most high-profile supporter, Ibrahimovic — currently playing at American soccer club Los Angeles Galaxy — would be working against the Italian city where he spent some of the best years of his career.
Milan is alongside the resort of Cortina d'Ampezzo in a joint bid by Italy, and Ibrahimovic played for both Inter Milan and AC Milan for a combined period of five years — winning four league titles in that spell.
With about four months to go until the IOC vote in Lausanne, the race looks too close to call with concerns about political support to underwrite essential costs casting a shadow over both bids.
Political upheaval in Sweden hasn't helped the Stockholm-Are bid. A new city government formed in Stockholm in October expressed worries about spending taxpayer money on the two-week event, while the national government was in limbo until last month when a two-party, center-left minority government was approved.
Mats Arjes, president of the Swedish Olympic Committee, said Wednesday his body had "very positive" talks with the prime minister and sports minister over the past week. The SOK recently said Stockholm's city government is now "positive" about the 2026 bid after receiving more assurances.
"We believe that now things are moving forward," Brisius said, "The meetings that we have had and the opportunities we have had to describe to the departments and the relevant people in the government seem to be going in a very good way."
Three other cities away from Stockholm would stage medal events as part of the Sweden bid. Ski jumping would take place in Falun, central Sweden; sliding competitions would cross the Baltic Sea to the Latvian town of Sigulda; and Alpine skiing would be staged in Are, 541 kilometers (336 miles) northwest of Stockholm.
Are is in the middle of hosting the Alpine skiing world championships, which have been affected by poor weather conditions — leading to the shortening of many races — and travel issues that meant some athletes and their luggage arrived late to the event.
Brisius said it had been a "good test for 2026."
"We learn a lot and the local organization has got very, very good support and grades from International Ski Federation, which is important," Brisius said. "We have the knowledge and we will know even more how to organize championships and Olympics."
The IOC vote is scheduled to take place on June 25
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80