Calgary 2026 Remains In Olympic Bid Race As City Approves Further Funding

Calgary City Council Monday voted to approve additional funding for a 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid that could keep the project alive through the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) application deadline on March 31 in 2018.

Olympic Saddledome in Calgary, Canada - host of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games (Wikipedia Photo)

Olympic Saddledome in Calgary, Canada – host of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games (Wikipedia Photo)

The vote passed with a 9-4 majority and followed a lengthy debate by skeptical Councillors who were looking for more assurances and questioning the transparency of city bureaucrats.  Councillors were warned last week that without the additional funding package of CAD $1.982 million (USD $1.549 million), the bid would lose its competitive edge and city staff would recommend that the project instead be abandoned.

CAD $1 million will be released immediately with the remaining funds totaling up to $2 million to be made available only after Federal and Provincial partners join the project, if that occurs before January 2018.

With the CAD $1.5 million (USD $1.17) that remains from the CAD $5 million (USD $3.9 million) originally budgeted for exploratory work, a bid corporation will be set up early 2018 to lead the project through an IOC dialogue phase, and give City Council more time to decide whether they will invest millions more to file an application in March.

The total CAD $3.48 million (USD $2.7 million) will cover costs including CAD $1.24 million for the use of city staff, $1.1 million for external consultants and $400,000 for bid marketing – including the cost to send a delegation to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games as part of the IOC’s bid city observers program.

An additional $385,000 will fund further administrative costs, and 10 per cent of the total has been budgeted as a contingency.

Calgary officials also recommended to Councillors in a report Monday that a proposed bid committee “specifically explore venues outside of Calgary as part of an updated Master Facilities Plan (MFP) in order to reduce the costs of hosting the 2026 OPWG.”

While CBEC had been mandated to make 2026 a Calgary-based Games, discussions among experts and the IOC have suggested a broader footprint that could include arenas in provincial capital Edmonton (instead of building a new facility in Calgary) and staging the ski jumping in Whistler at the same facility used at the Vancouver 2010 Games, instead of refurbishing the aging venue in Calgary.  This strategy would align with IOC comments last summer suggesting Calgary’s overall budget could be significantly reduced.

A report by the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) earlier this year concluded that a Calgary 2026 Games would be feasible and could produce valuable economic benefits.  But two independent academic reports that were not originally made public in full by city officials offered a more pessimistic outlook.  They were made available Monday after a demand from City Council despite fears that the information would risk Calgary’s competitive advantage against other international cities in the bid race

A report from the University of Calgary insisted that there is little evidence to support CBEC’s claim that an Olympic Games would boost Canada’s GDP.  Another report from West Virginia University was equally pessimistic.

A CBEC survey revealed good support for a Calgary 2026 Olympic bid

The IOC launched a dialog phase in October but has been holding discussions with Calgary representatives and those from other potential bidders for months.  A Calgary delegate attended the IOC Session in Lima, Peru in September along with delegates from Sion, Switzerland, Stockholm, Sweden and Innsbruck, Austria.

Innsbruck has since left the race after losing a referendum in October and Sion will face a threatening referendum in June.  Stockholm still needs government backing to move forward.  Sapporo, Japan launched a bid earlier this month and Telemark in Norway has also indicated interest.

Salt Lake City in the United States has launched a study on bidding prospects for 2026 or 2030 and other American cities including Denver and Reno-Tahoe have been named as possible candidates.

For Calgary’s bid to make an application, it must receive City Council approval and agreement that the project meets five financial principles previously outlined in meetings.  The bid will also need endorsements and funding from the Province of Alberta and the Canadian federal government – both expected by the end of the year.

Until then, Calgary bid project manager Kyle Ripley says the City Council can exit the process at any time.

After the formal application, the IOC will have until October 2018 to determine which cities it will invite to the final bidding phase and the September 2019 election in Milan, Italy.  Bid books are due into the IOC in January 2019.

About Robert Livingstone

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.