Mayor Believes City Council Won’t Approve Calgary 2026 Olympic Bid Monday

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi believes his City Council is not yet ready to approve the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid.  Speaking in advance of the publishing of a 5,400 page report by the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) on Monday, the Mayor said it is unlikely a vote will pass in favour of bidding due to recent changes made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

“Given that the IOC has extended their timing, it’ll be very, very difficult for council to make a final yes decision before we see the IOC’s bid-city’s contracts,” Nenshi said Wednesday.

“My sense is council may just say no, but if they’re intrigued or interested in going further, it’s really a matter of waiting until after PyeongChang.”

The Olympic Winter Games will be held at the South Korean ski resort town in February.

Last week the IOC announced changes to the 2026 Olympic bid process that has extended the “invitation stage,” a consultative process that has already begun, until September next year.  At its conclusion, the IOC members will choose which cities they wish to engage with in a bid process and launch an evaluation of those cities before electing a winner in 2019.

With Innsbruck in Austria and Sion in Switzerland the only other serious bidders at this point – and both having to face referendums over their bids, it is likely the IOC will be interested in the Canadian city that last hosted the Games in 1988.

After the CBEC announced a preliminary budget of USD $3.5 billion (CAD $4.6 billion) last month, the IOC published a rare statement indicating they believed that under new reforms, the costs could be much lower.  Last week IOC Vice President John Coates said costs could be kept low by using existing facilities in other cities instead of constructing new venues for the Games.  For Calgary, that could mean, for instance, using an existing arena in Edmonton instead of building an new one in Calgary.

The IOC is actively seeking to disconnect the organization of the Games with city infrastructure projects that are typically the root cause of high budgets, cost overruns and project delays.  The Sochi 2014 Winter Games’ $51 billion price tag has discouraged many cities from launching bids of their own, even though the costs are largely attributable to the construction of several large venues and massive transportation infrastructure.

Now, the organization is telling bids not to build new facilities that are otherwise unnecessary, and to use existing or temporary facilities instead even if in another nearby city – or nation.

But Nenshi hasn’t heard that message from the IOC, he said “If we’re going to spend the money to just put on the Olympics and reuse existing facilities, the question that I’m going to have on Monday is ‘does that get us where we need to be on legacy.’”

“I thought the question would be is $2.4 billion too much, and the question I’m constantly hearing from the public is: ‘is that enough,’” Metro reports the Mayor said.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) meets with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on December 21, 2016 (Photo: Twitter @JustinTrudeau)

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) meets with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on December 21, 2016 (Photo: Twitter @JustinTrudeau)

Municipal elections are scheduled in Calgary for October 15, meaning a new city council will be able to mull the report and make its decision on a possible bid next year.

Calgary Councillor Sean Chu is suggesting a plebiscite on the issue to be held in conjunction with the October municipal election, saying the almost CAD $400,000 ballot cost is justified to make the CAD $4.6 billion decision.

But Nenshi disagrees, he says “it’s really not fair” to call a vote at this late stage, explaining that for groups who either oppose or support the plans that there isn’t enough time to analyze the 5,400 page report and organize a proper campaign.  He doesn’t believe it will result in an informed decision.

The CBEC, a group that has operated under a CAD $5 million budget granted by the City Council last year, will make its recommendation to City Council Monday when it hands over the report.  The Councillors’ vote is expected to follow.

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.