Gunilla Lindberg is one of the leading figures in global sport, and among many other prominent roles, a Board Member of the International Olympic Committee.
She also firmly believes that Sweden could organize an Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2026 in such a way as to become the archetype and model for future Games.
Gunilla Lindberg is an experienced and skilled international sports leader. She knows that everything she says is scrutinized. Therefore, she is circumspect in her words, never boastful, and always polite. A lot of Sweden itself. However, she is also known to be direct when needed, and when it comes to one topic, she is crystal clear:
“The question is not what the Olympic Movement can give Sweden, but rather what Sweden can contribute to the Olympic Movement.”. Which, she believes, is a lot: “It’s really simple. Just think about what Sweden stands for. Democracy, humility, equality, sustainability, transparency, the environment, reliability, honesty, public health, and interest in sport just to name a few. In all these areas, Sweden is a world leader”, says Gunilla. “That is why I say these Games are about much more than 2026, they are about the future of the Winter Games.
Even the concept of “lagom”, roughly equivalent to “just right” or “everything in moderation”, often associated with Swedes and Sweden, finds a champion in Gunilla when it comes to organizing the 2026 Winter Games.
“I believe that “moderation” is really something the Olympic Movement, and indeed the world, is looking for. This is really what the IOC’s new approach is all about: make hosting the Games more affordable, more sustainable and frankly more inspiring for cities and communities around the world. The good news is that this new focus of the IOC is exactly the way Sweden has always conducted business.”
Gunilla Lindberg is careful to emphasize that those wishing to host an Olympic Games must have the right focus. “Hosting an Olympic Games is not a right; every Host City has to earn it. It’s a competition where there is only one medal, and very few have had the privilege of winning. It is a very exclusive club”.
Arguments such as “It’s our turn now”, or “Sweden has never hosted a Winter Games”, or “we are one of the most successful winter sports nations” hold no weight with Gunilla Lindberg.
“The focus is wrong. The Olympic Movement does not see it that way. Instead, each Candidate City must answer the question, “what do we have to offer that can propel the Olympic Movement forward?”
And when it comes to Sweden and Stockholm, she sees several definitive elements to help answer the question, “Why Stockholm 2026?”:
“We are a capital city that is a winter city; our first snow arrived before Christmas this year. We have great experience in organizing championships in winter sports, and a population in love with winter sports. We have the existing infrastructure – basically, nothing needs to be built. We have a sustainable budget, and sustainability is at the forefront of all our planning. We have major support within the Paralympic movement as well, and broad support from the global sports movement. Popular support.”
Winter weather, experience, structure, infrastructure, sustainability, support and moderation.
Gunilla Lindberg believes one must always look ahead. The future belongs to those brave enough to seize it, but humble enough to share it. There is nothing wrong with the fact that Sweden has bid on the Olympic Games seven times and failed, if anything, that perseverance is a positive.
“Someone else was better. It’s that simple. There is no room for excuses in sport. As an athlete you can’t go to an Olympic Games assuming you’ll win a gold medal just because you’ve participated; no one wins anything for simply showing up. It takes decades of preparation, almost beyond the imaginable to succeed – and it takes a lot of people such as coaches and officials helping as well. Yet in some ways, it’s even harder to win an Olympic bid. In that competition, there is only one winner”, she says, and continues:
“Therefore, I see it differently. Sweden has practiced hard for a long time. Sweden has shown dedication and perseverance beyond the imaginable. Sweden has planned and prepared. Sweden has leaders and coaches who have done everything they can, and we are now in the final. Our position is this race could not be better. That is my message to the doubters.”
“But I would add one other thought, perhaps intangible but very important. Great nations do great things; those to whom much is given, much is expected. I think Sweden has a lot to share with the world beyond sport, and there is no better way to showcase our people, our culture and our nation than by hosting an Olympic Games.”
Gunilla Lindberg believes it is wrong to think of the Winter Games as something that takes place over just a few weeks. “It’s something that lasts from the moment you win the Games to the day they begin, so for over seven years. There will be a huge focus on the Host City for many, many years before, and for many years after the Games are finished.”
After almost a lifetime of service to the Olympic Movement, Gunilla Lindberg does not hide the fact that hosting the Winter Games in Sweden is a personal dream.
“Of course, it is. Even a Board Member of the IOC must have her own private dreams. For me personally it would be absolutely amazing.”
So, what’s are Sweden’s chances?
With a gleam in her eyes, Gunilla Lindberg smiles broadly at the question and answers:
“Italy has a good concept and I think it will be an even match. 50/50”.
Gunilla Lindberg is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Secretary-General of the Swedish Olympic Committee (SOC). She is also a member of the IOC Board of Directors and Secretary-General of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC).