An online questionnaire was launched Wednesday by the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) asking for citizen feedback on whether Calgary should bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. The referendum-style survey looks geared to gauge both citizens desire to host the Games as well as measuring their understanding of the project.
Calgary, the Canadian city that last hosted the 1988 Games, has budgeted USD $3.8 million on preliminary analysis ahead of officially submitting a bid to host in 2026.
Brian Hahn, general manager of CBEC said in a news release “understanding what people in Calgary and the surrounding area think about a potential bid is an important part of our exploration process. We want to know where they see the benefits to submitting a bid but also what their concerns are.”
This strategy seems wise after a string of Games organizing failures and massive loss of public confidence around hosting the Games.
The survey was launched the same day that the city of Budapest decided to withdraw it’s two-year-old campaign to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games after a referendum was forced when 266,000 citizens signed a petition. With only seven months until the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is set to make a decision, Budapest had already spent several millions of dollars organizing and promoting the project.
During the same 2024 bid, Hamburg narrowly lost a post-application referendum and was forced to exit the race. During the previous 2022 Olympic Winter Games bid Krakow in Poland lost a post-application referendum and a potential bid from Munich was snuffed by a vote just days before the application deadline.
Last week a potential bid from Davos, Switzerland for the 2026 Games was ended when the Swiss voters overwhelmingly defeated it. A bid from another Swiss city Sion is still possible, but it will also face a vote.
The last time a mid-campaign referendum was successful occurred when Vancouver won its bid to host the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
The non-scientific online questionnaire will help the Calgary exploratory committee understand where the public stands on issues surrounding the bid. It first asks “Overall, do you oppose or support Calgary bidding for the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games?”
Then a dialogue lays out all of the bid caveats and advantages – asking for feedback on each.
The questionnaire plainly explains “some recent Games, both Summer and Winter, have exceeded their budgets and it would take careful insight and planning to avoid this in 2026.”
“Apart from the operational cost of running the Games, one must also consider the cost of building or renovating facilities to meet Olympic criteria as well as the provision of services like accommodation, transportation and security.
“In order to even bid on the Games, Calgary (as well as Alberta and Canada) would need to dedicate millions of dollars to the development of a competitive bid without a guarantee of success.”
The user experience during the survey also lists the positives for respondents to consider.
“Upgrading existing facilities and building additional venues could add billions in economic activity and thousands of jobs – not to mention hundreds of millions in local business revenue and taxes generated during the Games from associated tourism activity.”
“Even an unsuccessful bid could generate increased tourism and investment for Calgary as a result of the nearly two-year international bid process.”
Finally at the end, after the respondent has been asked to consider the pros and cons, the survey asks the user to reconsider the first question and once again weigh in on whether they can support a Games bid.
The IOC must take notice. Should this be a required element in advance of any future Games bid? More valuable than a simple referendum, this tool can help shed light on issues that may be miscommunication – and help separate them from other political agendas. And where there is significant push back, a costly campaign can be avoided.
Public rejection of hosting the Games, especially across Europe, has been damaging to the IOC in recent years. A field of six Winter Games candidates for 2022 was reduced to two cities in Asia after four European option dropped out. The IOC was forced to settle with Beijing as winner. Prior to the launch of the 2024 bid campaign, IOC President Thomas Bach was reveling in the fact that many cities had already lined up to bid. Now, only two – Los Angeles and Paris – remain.
The IOC must get more engaged before and during the bid process. Perhaps this simple questionnaire model is a start.
Budapest’s bid was rejected Wednesday after it was clear that there was no clear communication between stakeholders, and with the general public, that caused the campaign to end up as the collateral damage of a much bigger political issue.
Results from the Calgary questionnaire will be integrated into CBEC’s final report scheduled to be presented to Calgary city council by July. A final decision on a bid will be made by city Councillors later this year before the Canadian Olympic Committee determines whether to forward a bid to the IOC.
Also thought to be interested in bidding for the 2026 Games is Innsbruck, Almaty in Kazakhstan and Sapporo – the Japanese city currently staging the Asian Winter Games.
The IOC will elect a winner in 2019.
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.