Calgary’s City Council voted Wednesday to continue exploring a potential 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid, a decision that sends the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) back to work to continue leveraging the (CAD) $5 million budget the city granted last year.
Had the vote been defeated, the bid to have the Games return to Calgary for the second time would have ended on the floor. Instead the CBEC is now expected back in council chambers September 11 to report further on its progress.
Though the vote carried with a 9 to 4 tally, most councilors expressed frustration with the projected $4.6 billion budget and lack of information from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that last month delayed the bid process. Under the new schedule, bid expectations from the IOC and details of the host city agreement won’t be available until next year.
“I want to sincerely thank CBEC for their hard work and diligence in exploring the feasibility of an Olympic bid”, said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. “It’s remarkable what CBEC has been able to accomplish since forming late last year and I’m confident their work and findings will be put to good use by The City of Calgary.”
Calgary Councilor Ray Jones said “We haven’t slammed the door, but we’ve kept it open a little.”
In order to move forward to submit a bid to the IOC, the City Council agrees it needs to address five principals including having security costs met by Provincial and Federal governments; having operating costs funded entirely by ticket sales, sponsorships, broadcast rights, the IOC contribution and other earned revenues; accommodate debt level constraints of the city; having the IOC mandated financial guarantees underwritten by an entity other than the City – or be at a level acceptable to the City; and ensuring the city, provincial and federal governments have the capability to incur the capital costs of preparing for the Games.
Most councilors admitted, however, that they were skeptical about the possibility of the project moving forward.
The CBEC has over $1 million remaining in its initial budget to carry it through the invitation stage next year, if necessary, but others have no appetite for spending any further.
Calgary Councilor Peter Demong said “Personally, I think it’s time to cut bait.”
“I had high hopes for [IOC Olympic] Agenda 2020, I thought the cost would come in lower,” he added, explaining planning hadn’t panned out as expected.
Others councilors suggested using a wait-and-see approach and instead bid for the 2030 edition after observing whether the Agenda 2020 reforms, the IOC’s new cost-cutting approach to hosting the Games, really work. But CBEC officials warned that the IOC could choose to double-allocate the Winter Games and award both the 2026 and 2030 Games at the same time – an example it set with an announcement last month.
In an unprecedented move, the IOC agreed to award both the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games to the two remaining 2024 bid candidates at a single meeting in September. On Monday it was announced that Los Angeles was willing to accept the 2028 Games, leaving the path clear for Paris to host the event in 2024.
For that to happen, Los Angeles was able to negotiate the host city contract with the IOC and earn several financial concessions. Calgary officials should take note, the IOC is now flexible with its terms.
That’s good news for CBEC, that revealed today it has been considering holding ski jump events in Whistler instead of paying for expensive upgrades to the Calgary 1988 ski jump, a benefit that the IOC’s Agenda 2020 allows.
In June, the IOC issued a statement that said it believed there were cost-saving opportunities under new rules that could considerably reduce the budget proposed by CBEC, and that they were open for discussions on the project. It is believed that Calgary can leverage it’s 1988 Olympic legacy, as well as existing infrastructure in the region, to minimize construction.
It’s clear – after four of six cities dropped from the 2022 Olympic Winter Games race and three of five abandoned their 2024 bid campaigns, mostly due to cost and risk concerns – that the IOC is desperate to attract and retain bid cities. The IOC wants to keep Calgary in the race but it seems the Canadian city is beginning to lose interest.
Sion in Switzerland is already a declared bidder for the Games, having won a domestic campaign by outlasting four other regions. Innsbruck in Austria, a two-time Winter Games host city, has completed a feasibility study and is likely to enter the race as well. However both European cities will have to face difficult referendums in the months ahead in order to be elected host city in 2026.
Calgary City Council has already rejected holding a plebiscite.
Sapporo in Japan, Almaty in Kazakhstan and Ezurum in Turkey have also indicated interest in bidding for the 2026 Games.
The IOC is set to kick off it’s invitation stage of the campaign later this year and will accept candidates in the fall of 2018. The 2026 host city is expected to be elected in 2019.
The 2018 Winter Games will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea in February and Beijing is set to host the Games in 2022.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com 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.