Calgary 2026 Appoints CEO As City Council Threatens To End Olympic Bid

Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary 2026 (LinkedIn Photo)

Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary 2026 (LinkedIn Photo)

Despite the appointment of a new CEO, City Councillors who are disgruntled over the progress of Calgary’s 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid could end the project in less than seven weeks unless other government stakeholders cooperate quickly.

On Tuesday the Calgary 2026 BidCo announced that Mary Moran, head of the Calgary Economic Development, has been named as its CEO.   As the first female to be appointed lead of a Canadian bid, she will be taking a leave of absence in order to focus on her new role.

In remarks, Moran admitted that the bid “is not for everyone” but added, “it will be too easy to just say ‘no.'”

She promised a “healthy dialogue,” “a thorough and rigorous analysis,” and said her primary task ahead of a plebiscite will be “gathering and distributing the factual information allowing voters to make an informed decision.”

“We will not do this at all costs,” she said.

“We will do what’s right.”

Moran will assume her responsibilities on August 13.

On Monday the Calgary City Council voted to approve CAD $5.1 million (USD $3.9 million) spending for an Olympic bid secretariat so the city can properly vet decisions by the Olympic BidCo.  But a subsequent closed-door session soured the opinions of councilors who are now blaming the provincial and federal governments for their non-committal attitude towards funding the Canadian bid.

Ottawa and provincial Capital Edmonton have promised to contribute CAD $10 million and $10.5 million respectively, adding to the $9.5 million that Calgary has already approved to pay for the bid – but negotiations around funding the actual event in 2026, currently budgeted at CAD $4.6 billion (USD $3.5 billion), are still underway.

Diane Colley-Urquhart sent a “shot across the bow” to other orders of government in remarks shortly after the meeting, she said “If they’re interested and serious about Calgary being committed to this process, then now’s the time for them to step up in a timely manner and respond to many of the things that we need answers to.”

In a Tweet prior to the announcement of the new addition to the Calgary 2026 team she added “The Olympic CEO should not be appointed until the September 10th off ramp deadline when Calgary needs to know if The Province and the Feds are going to step up to the plate.”

Calgary City Council will vote on whether to continue to bid for the Games during a September 10 meeting, and a failed vote would immediately bring the project to an end.  Should the bid survive, it will face a plebiscite, possibly in November.

Moran urged all citizens, regardless of their position on the bid, to exercise their voices and vote in the plebiscite.  She added that even if the bid fails, the city will still win by using the opportunity to “take stock” in what the city offers.

But one City Councillor and bid opponent Druh Farrell said “without talking about our discussion [held in private], I have to say that my confidence in an Olympic bid is at an all-time low.”

Some Councillors are concerned that there is a lack of transparency in the process and have forced a debate over the exemptions for BidCo with respect to Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy legislation.  The debate will be held Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier this month Calgary’s bid rival Graz in Austria pulled out of the race because it lacked government consensus, and last month Sion in Switzerland withdrew when it lost a referendum over local funding of the project.  Only five of the original interested bids remain in the race – but those too face hurdles that could prevent them from reaching the finish line.

Italy has yet to name its lead bid city, Stockholm still seeks government approvals, Sapporo in Japan has said it may wait until 2030 for the delivery of new transport infrastructure and Erzurum in Turkey faces security risks due to its proximity to Syria.

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is expected to release a short list of qualified candidates in October, but may have few options available for the final ballot when its members vote for a winner in September 2019.

Last week when IOC Executive Director Christophe Dubi visited Calgary to discuss the bid with government representatives and the Chamber of Commerce, he said there will be “no harm done” if Calgary drops out of the race.  However, after four of six cities exited the 2022 race – the IOC were forced to choose between snowless Beijing and unknown Almaty in Kazakhstan.  For 2026, the organization has made it known that they are looking to site the Games in a more traditional Winter Games location, to be read as Europe of North America.

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.