City Warns Calgary Must Invest $2M Now Or Abandon 2026 Olympic Bid

The now-defunct Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) asked the Calgary City Council Monday for an additional CAD $2 million (USD $1.57 million) if the Canadian city wishes to “proceed with a competitive bid.”

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988
Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

Planners warned that if city council doesn’t vote to move forward and approve funding when they reconvene in Chambers next Monday (November 20), “our recommendation would be to not continue.”

CBEC ceased operations last month after developing a comprehensive report revealing that Calgary was capable of organizing the 2026 Olympic Winter Games but the organization stopped short at recommending that the city move ahead with the project, instead suggesting that City Council investigate whether five financial principles could exist before determining the next steps.

CBEC only spent about CAD $3.5 million of the CAD $5 million allocated for the research and returned the surplus to city coffers.

But City Director Kyle Ripley told Council that now the creation of a bidding corporation (BidCo) early in 2018 would be required in order to deliver a 2026 bid book to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) by the January 2019 deadline.  He said the project will “require additional funds in the order of $2.0 million; however, the exact amount requires further investigation and refinement.”

The urgency is due to an accelerated schedule announced by the IOC last month.

However even if the City Council approves the funding, it will still have more time to decide whether it will invest an additional $25 to $30 million to formalize and submit a bid.  The application deadline is March 31, 2018 before the IOC decides which cities are invited to move forward in October 2018.  The final election will take place September 2019 in Milan, Italy.

Innsbruck in Austria dropped out of the race last month after losing a referendum.  Sion faces a difficult referendum next June if the Swiss city hopes to remain in the race.  Sapporo in Japan as well as Telemark, Norway and U.S. cities Denver, Reno-Tahoe and Salt Lake City are all considering bids, but could also be preparing to host the 2030 Games instead.

That leaves Calgary in with a compelling opportunity.

“The competitive landscape is changing in favour of Calgary,” Ripley told Council, later elaborating that as cities drop out of the race, there is an opportunity to have “a different conversation” with the IOC.

He referenced the IOC’s dual-allocation in September of the Summer Games to Paris in 2024 and LA in 2028 as evidence that the Olympic organization is willing to work differently when its options are limited.

He warned, however, that could change if the city doesn’t move quickly.

“Currently we are not positioned well for race day,” Ripley said.

“If we continue at our current pace, we run the risk of not showing up prepared for the race.

“Unless we are showing up race ready we are in essence pulling ourselves out of the bid process.

Ripley maintained that the bid is still a project by Calgary and would not include Alberta’s Capital Edmonton, later adding that planners are working to understand how the city could move forward with only one arena for the Games.  Suggestions have been made to leverage the new Rogers Place arena in Edmonton, and the IOC has relaxed rules and is allowing events to be hosted across a broader geographical footprint.

Councillor Jyoti Gondek pushed for confirmation of financial support from Provincial and Federal government partners, a critical bid component not yet secured by the Calgary project.

Councillor Druh Farrell observed during the debate that the decision by City Council to bid seems “predisposed” and though she wouldn’t be supporting the project with her vote – she understood it could well move forward.

But Farrell warned that the risks haven’t been well explained and the IOC was moving too slow with its reforms, only reacting when another city drops out of contention.

“Are we going to be the only one wanting to date the IOC, at the end of the day, because everyone sees the relationship as toxic?” she asked.

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.

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