Olympians Emerge, Trying To Rescue Calgary 2026 Olympic Bid From City Council’s Axe

With Calgary’s 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid on the brink of being disbanded, new proponents of the project have emerged and are rallying to save the bid, at least until the public can have its say.

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)

Calgary City Councilors Tuesday voted nine-to-one to reconsider their support of the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid and create a possible off-ramp, a decision that indicates interest in continuing the process has cooled.

At a full Council meeting starting Monday, Councilors will debate and vote on whether to immediately pull the plug on the project – and cancel plans for a public consultation process and possible plebiscite.

An eight-to-six vote in March approved continued funding for the bid, but subsequent missteps including confusion over the Provincial funding, the timing and need for a plebiscite and skepticism around the neutrality of the planned public consultation have changed the minds of a least two Councilors, and will likely tip the majority to the ‘no’ side.  If so, the bid will be done.

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While bid opponents who had been pushing for a plebiscite last week are now celebrating the project’s apparent imminent demise – the death-bed notice has served as a wake-up call to proponents of the project, and they’re taking to social media urging politicians to allow the people the chance to have their say.

“Council, let’s vote YES and give the BidCo a chance to show the full business, sport and city benefits with a plebiscite for people to have their voice,” Calgarian Olympic hockey champion and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Hayley Wickenheiser Tweeted Thursday.

In the Tweet she urged Councilors Ward Sutherland and Druh Farrell, both who have voted against the project, to contact her.

“Let’s chat,” she said, “Not drinking the coolaide just straight up facts.”

“There is so much lack of understanding and misinformation around the IOC and the games out there.”

Olympians who have lived and trained in Calgary also voiced their support in a last ditch attempt to save the CAD $30 million bid that has already secured funding from Federal and Provincial partners.

Two-time Olympic Champion Kaillie Humphries who also won bronze in bobsleigh at the PyeongChang Games in February Tweeted “Calgary 2026 is a huge yes in my books!”

Slalom Skiier Brad Spence Tweeted “Calgary’s youth that grew up around these facilities are the reason why Canada has had such a strong presence at the Games over the last 3 cycles!”

Others flooded various social media platforms urging their Councillors to reconsider and put the decision to a plebiscite, many noting the irony that Councillors who had fought so hard to put the decision into the hands of the voters are now willing to call off the project with no vote at all.

Calgary’s 660 News reported that top Canadian athletes will meet Friday at Winsport, one the bid’s key proposed venues, to hold a panel discussion to encourage Councillors to approve the bid Monday.

On Thursday, a poll commissioned by Ski Jumping Canada revealed 62 percent across Alberta want to bid for the Olympic Games. In Calgary, it’s a smaller majority at 55 percent.

Young people polled higher, with 75 percent of those between 18 and 24 approving a bid.  Only 49 percent over the age of 64 support the project.

On Thursday Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the poll confirms that pulling the plug on the bid would be premature.  He told Global News “It’s easy, when you’re sitting around the council table, to go, ‘Oh, I’m being courageous by speaking for my constituents,’ or, ‘There’s this huge groundswell of opposition’ – which clearly, from this poll, doesn’t exist at all.”

Should Councilors save the bid at Monday’s meeting, they will need to hold additional votes to approve a plebiscite and agree to the public consultation plans.  The Province of Alberta has indicated that their support for the organization of the Games is contingent on a favorable public vote.

A Global News poll last week revealed 92 percent across Alberta would support a privately funded bid, 84 percent believe the Games will boost the Province’s economy and 56 percent think the opportunity outweighs any potential risks of hosting the Games.

The IOC will be watching closely as the decision plays out in Calgary.  Last year Innsbruck in Austria pulled out of the 2026 race after losing a referendum and the replacement nominee, Graz, may also need to face a public vote.

Sion in Switzerland faces a binding regional referendum on June 10, and a majority oppose the bid in recent polls.

Bids from Stockholm and either Cortina d’Ampezzo, Milan or Turin in Italy are still challenged with securing government support which may not be forthcoming.

The remaining bidders, Sapporo in Japan and Erzurum in Turkey, have few hurdles ahead of an October 3 meeting where the IOC will invite qualified cities to move forward.

A winner will be elected September 2019.

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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