BERNE The Swiss Olympic committee's executive board has voted to back Sion's bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, officials said on Tuesday.
The decision still has to be ratified by the 86 Swiss Olympic sports federations, the so-called sport parliament, in April and could face a referendum before it is officially presented to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Even so, it was good news for the IOC which has seen interest in hosting the summer and winter Olympics fall away in the last few years, with cities either scared off by the size and cost of the Games or pressured by local opposition.
Budapest pulled out of bidding for the 2024 summer Olympics last month, becoming the fourth city to do so ahead of the IOC vote in September, leaving just Los Angeles and Paris in the running.
Beijing and the nearby city of Zhangjiakou beat Kazakhstan's Almaty for the right to host the 2022 winter Games after the other competitors dropped out, citing costs and other worries.
Sion, a town of around 33,000 situated on the banks of the Rhone in a valley in the canton of Valais, lost out to Turin after bidding to host the 2006 Winter Games, which last took place in Switzerland in St Moritz in 1948.
Venues would be spread around Valais and the neighbouring cantons of Fribourg, Berne and Vaud.
"We are convinced that this can bring something new to Switzerland," said Jean-Philippe Rochat, a sports lawyer who heads the Sion organising committee.
"We want to bring the games to Switzerland after 78 years. But we know we must still convince the sport parliament and we must convince the public."
The Alpine nation considered bidding for the 2022 Olympics with a joint effort from St Moritz/Davos but the idea was rejected in a local referendum on financial and environmental concerns.
The IOC will decide the hosts in 2019.
(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)