Diana Bianchedi, Games project director of Milan Cortina 2026, and Roberto Selva, chief marketing and customer officer of Esselunga, were involved in signing the partnership agreement ©Milan Cortina 2026

Milan Cortina 2026 has announced its first sponsorship deal for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics after reaching an agreement with Italian retail chain Esselunga.

Vincenzo Novari, chief executive of Milan Cortina 2026, described the deal as an "excellent starting point" and said he expected more sponsorship announcements to be made soon.

Question marks have been raised over funding for the Games due to the wait for sponsors to come on board.

A significant portion of Milan Cortina 2026's budget is expected to come from sponsors, with Novari aiming to secure €550 million (£470 million/$560 million).

Last month, local politicians signed a letter addressed to now-resigned Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, claiming there is "no money" to stage the Games in four years' time and requesting a meeting to address their concerns.

Following the announcement of Esselunga's agreement, Novari is hopeful of getting further sponsors over the line.

"I am delighted to welcome Esselunga as the first sponsor of the Milano Cortina 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games," said Novari.

"We will continue in this direction with the awareness of the challenges that await us in the near future, but also aware that today is an excellent starting point.

"The process of consolidating our commercial positioning is only beginning.

"This is the first in a series of agreements of great value that will soon be announced and that will be fundamental for carrying out our Games."

Milan Cortina 2026 chief executive Vincenzo Novari hopes to announce
Milan Cortina 2026 chief executive Vincenzo Novari hopes to announce "a series" of sponsorship agreements soon ©Getty Images

Esselunga, which started trading in 1957, is now a large-scale retail chain, with 25,000 employees and 5.7 million customers.

"We are very happy to be able to announce this partnership," said Marina Caprotti, executive chairman for Esselunga.

"Esselunga is a proudly Italian company.

"Every day we work to help generate value for our country through sustainable development plans and policies.

"Supporting Italian-made products is one of our priority objectives.

"The decision to support the Organising Committee of the Milano Cortina 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games correlates with our desire to make our contribution to further promote Italian excellence in the world and celebrate the values that sport represents."

Milan Cortina 2026 President Giovanni Malagò added: "It is with great pleasure that we welcome Esselunga to the team of partners of the Organising Committee of the Milano Cortina 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

"The Olympic Agenda 2020+5, introduced by the International Olympic Committee, marked a radical turning point in the history of sport by placing the theme of environmental, social and economic sustainability at the centre.

"This is why it is a source of great pride that Esselunga has chosen to walk alongside us in this magnificent adventure, testifying once again to its bond with the world of sport and with the values that Milano Cortina 2026 wants to represent."

The Games have been given a projected budget of €1.58 billion (£1.35 billion/$1.6 billion) by organisers.

The Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place between February 6 and 22 in 2026, with the Paralympic Games due to follow between March 6 and 15.