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Olympics- Milan and Cortina revive Italy's 2026 Winter Games bid

ROME (Reuters) - Italy forged ahead with its bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics on Wednesday, hurriedly revising its original plans to stage the games across three cities and instead proposing a joint initiative by just Milan and Cortina.

FILE PHOTO: Alpine Skiing – Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Men’s Downhill – Jeongseon Alpine Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 11, 2018 - The Olympics rings are seen at the Alpine venue after the men's downhill was postponed due to strong winds. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

The government announced on Tuesday that a proposal to hold the games in Turin, Milan and Cortina had collapsed because of divisions between the three city halls and said that it would not support any new alternative projects.

However, with preliminary bids due to be presented to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) next month, the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto said they planned to push ahead with a Milan-Cortina project and leave Turin out in the cold.

“At this point it is unthinkable to throw everything away. The application must be saved, so we are willing to undertake this challenge together (with Lombardy),” said Luca Zaia, who is head of the Veneto region, which includes Cortina.

Three cities have already pulled out of the 2026 Olympic race, with Japan’s Sapporo, Switzerland’s Sion and Austria’s Graz all previously announcing their decision to withdraw.

Calgary, Stockholm and Turkey’s Erzurum are the only three definitely left in the running, with the IOC next month due to name the city or cities which will enter the one-year candidature phase.

The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) said it was ready to support the Milan-Cortina project, but urged Turin to come back on board. “There is still time and I hope that good sense will prevail,” CONI chief Giovanni Malago told Rai radio.

The mayor of Turin, Chiara Appendino, denied walking away from the pact and accused Milan and Cortina of plotting behind her back. She told La Stampa newspaper that she had asked for clarifications about the three-way bid but received no answer.

Appendino is a member of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, while the regional heads of Lombardy and Veneto are both from the rightist League party.

The collapse of the Turin-Milan-Cortina bid caused friction within the coalition government in Rome, which is made up of 5-Star and the League, and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio has refused to let government cash support any new candidacy.

Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala said he hoped the government would help the new bid, but predicted that the wealthy Lombardy and Veneto regions could fill any eventual funding gap.

“The economic output of Lombardy and Veneto is bigger than that of Sweden or Austria,” Sala told RTL radio.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Toby Davis