Calgary’s bid to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games will survive at least until a November 13 plebiscite after City Councillors rejected a motion Wednesday to cancel plans and dissolve the bid corporation. The vote to approve the end of the bid lost 8-7.
Councilors debated proposed plans for almost seven hours and asked constructive questions of the bid committee, city staff and other experts before the motion went to vote. The deep dive revealed specific information about the bid that wasn’t previously released.
Failing to get at least 10 of 15 votes, the motion made Tuesday by the Chair of the Calgary Olympic Bid Assessment Committee, Councillor Evan Woolley, was rejected – meaning that it will remain business as usual for the organization trying to win the right to stage the Games in Calgary for the second time.
After four hours of debate behind closed doors Tuesday, committee members landed on the motion after they failed to reconcile a funding shortfall that emerged Friday. Negotiators among the city, Province of Alberta and Government of Canada couldn’t find the needed CAD $3 billion dollars to support the project previously valued at $5.2 billion.
But late Tuesday, the government partners released a letter outlining a revised funding plan that was produced after days of negotiations.
The new funding deal is worth CAD $2.875 billion (all amounts in 2018 Canadian dollars), half coming from the federal government, and is a small reduction from the $3 billion initially sought. Reports explain that the funding matches a new reduced budget that was lowered due to discovered efficiencies.
The total Games cost drops to $5.075 billion.
Bid Chief Mary Moran told City Council during a debate prior to the vote that savings were found by relocating the Olympic Village and reducing total accommodations (the IOC has reduced this requirement as part of the “New Norm” reforms). Calgary 2026 was also able to confirm lower security and essential services costs, amounting to at least $200 million savings, in total.
The city will contribute $370 million and $20 million for a $200 million insurance contingency, the Province has already committed to $700 million – and both will cover the $150 million costs for “defined improvements”, an Olympic-related portion of already-funded capital infrastructure budgets.
The Federal government will match those funds with a $1.423 injection, and an additional $30 million “leveraging initiatives identified in the hosting plan.”
Organizers are unsure the amount of insurance coverage that will be available for purchase, but it is planned to cover the final $200 million of the $1.1 billion contingency fund. If unavailable, there are plans to look for “something else.”
Calgary 2026 claim that for the city, a $390 million overall investment will lead to a total financial injection – including partner contributions, revenues and IOC contributions of $4.4 billion.
According to Moran, in the new plans all venues will remain in the Calgary area except for the ski jumping competition to be staged in Whistler, B.C.
Calgary 2026 is still mulling a handful of potential curling venues in the city but has yet to finalize a choice.
Canadian Olympic athletes organized on social media late Tuesday to rally support for the bid, urging people to attend the scheduled City Council debate and wear red. The seating area in chambers filled up quickly, and overflow crowds of supporters gathered outside in the lobby area, holding signs and chanting support for the bid.
They called for their chance to have a say about the bid in the plebiscite.
Moran said the bid has taken out more than $1 million in advertising to promote the bid, and the campaign will continue up until the election day. The bid opposition group No Calgary Olympics claim their expenses are so low that they can be considered trivial.
The group released a poll conducted in mid-October that revealed 64 percent asked in Calgary were against the bid. With 2,956 responses, the poll was completed by Alberta Analytics Group by landline and has an accuracy rate of +/- 5.4 out of 100. The wording of the question was not provided.
An IOC poll taken earlier in the year revealed 53 percent support the project.
City Councillors agreed that the Olympic bid file has been contentious and divisive.
The plebiscite is non-binding, but a positive outcome is required to trigger the provincial and federal funding for the Games. If less than 50 percent answer ‘yes’, the bid will be done.
Only three bids remain of seven original applicants in the 2026 race,
Bids from Stockholm in Sweden and jointly by Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy require government backing and guarantees when the IOC expects the delivery of bid books on January 11. Both bids still lack those critical elements, and they could be forced to exit the race before the IOC elects a winner in June.
The IOC has never faced a Winter Games bid without a candidate city.
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) this week began a domestic nomination process to select the next American Winter Games bids city before the end of December. Salt Lake City has emerged as the favourite from among Denver and Reno-Tahoe.
The USOC is not currently involved in the 2026 process, but if all cities drop out of that race – Salt Lake City could be prepared as an alternate choice for the IOC.