Toronto Polarized Over 2024 Olympic Bid As Deadline Just Hours Away

Toronto Mayor John Tory

Toronto Mayor John Tory

Will he or won’t he?

That’s the question in Toronto Monday as the city awaits Mayor John Tory’s decision on whether to send a nomination letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) indicating that the city wants to pursue a shot to host the 2024 Olympic Games.

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) has already voted to support Toronto 2024 and a letter is waiting for Tory’s signature, along with a $50,000 cheque for IOC fees.  Now, all it takes is the mayor’s okay before COC President Marcel Aubut can hit send on the fax machine.  But as recently as Sunday Tory indicated that he had yet to make up his mind with only hours left before the midnight Tuesday, Swiss time, deadline to indicate interest.

But the wait seems to be eating away at the strong support a Toronto 2024 bid enjoyed just weeks ago following a successful Pan Am Games in the city.  A Mainstreet Research poll released Monday indicated only 50 per cent support a bid with 47 per cent opposed – that’s down from the 70’s just following the Games and 58 per cent in August.

The results are similar to an unscientific international poll on GamesBids.com that currently indicates 51 per cent in favour with 45 per cent against.

Should Toronto bid for the 2024 Olympic Games?

  • Yes (50%)
  • No (47%)
  • Not Sure (4%)

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Groups are already organizing on both sides of the equation.  A loosely formed NoTO2024 group seems to be hitching a ride on the successful NoBostonOlympics organization that was instrumental in the demise of the Boston 2024 bid.  However the Toronto version lacks a concrete Toronto-specific argument and backers with credibility, who are choosing to remain virtually anonymous instead.

On Saturday a similar but reverse styled YesTO2024 group emerged launching a support Website at YesTO2024.com and asking for letters of support to be sent to the mayor to help him make his decision.  The group uses a logo designed by a member from the GamesBids.com Forums discussion board.

But so far the debate is somewhat muted – without concrete plans the sides have no specific arguments to leverage.

The Toronto press has also chosen opposite sides of the argument with the Globe and Mail newspaper claiming the city can win, but shouldn’t because it can’t afford it – and the CBC suggesting that its an opportunity that the city cannot afford to miss.

Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games Logo Unveiled

And while Mayor Tory and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne are clearly huge proponents of the Games to the point of giddiness when they discuss the opportunity, former Mayor Rob Ford and many City Councillors have spoken against bidding – many suggesting that its just too expensive, too risky or too late.

But if Toronto does enter the race Monday or Tuesday, it won’t be too late – it may not even be the last city to enter the race.  There is still a good chance that Baku, Azerbaijan will join the campaign simply by faxing the letter without any announcement at all – just as the city did when it entered the 2020 Olympic bid race.  In that case the public won’t even know about it until the IOC announces the applicant list Wednesday morning.

The time within bid campaigns are often used to develop plans and to market and promote them while seeking approval from stakeholders.  Hamburg made its bid official last week yet the German city still needs to gain public approval through a referendum scheduled for November 29 – that could be the bid’s final day should the ballot get defeated.

Rome was several months into its 2020 campaign before the Italian Prime Minister withheld support for the project causing the bid to withdraw – yet the city is back in for 2024.

Vancouver’s winning 2010 Winter Games bid was still seeking approval 18 months into the campaign when it won a city-wide plebiscite that finally approved the Games just weeks before the final election.

And last year Oslo, Norway dropped out the contention for the 2022 Winter Games when it couldn’t get parliamentary approval yet weeks later, after the IOC made reforms that promoted affordable and sustainable Games plans – the city wanted back in.  The IOC said “no”.

A large Brazilian flag waves over Rio House in Copenhagen after winning Olympic bid (GB Photo)

A large Brazilian flag waves over Rio House in Copenhagen after winning Olympic bid (GB Photo)

Toronto is on a similar path that Rio de Janeiro traversed starting in 2007.  After hosting the Pan Am Games that year the Brazilian city had just weeks, but eventually placed its bid for the 2016 Olympic Games shortly before the deadline.  The city qualified for the short list after finishing fifth among its rivals based on technical merits, but after running a convincing campaign over the final few months it defeated heavy favourite Chicago to win the right to host the Games next year.

So if Aubut does click send on the fax machine before time runs out, Toronto 2024 will have time to develop, publish and promote its plans – as well as seek stakeholder approval with actual venue strategies and budget estimates in hand – before the IOC needs these pieces in place starting in January 2016.  If he drops the letter in the recycle bid, the window will be closed for four more years.

The clock is ticking.

About Robert Livingstone


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.