Calgary 2026 Braces For Tuesday’s Critical City-Wide Olympic Bid Vote While IOC Looks On

Calgary’s two-year long effort to win the right to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games will face a showdown Tuesday between constituents who want the city to host a second Games, and those taxpayers who have had enough.

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

A plebiscite, that will cost Alberta’s provincial taxpayers about CAD $2 million (USD $1.5 million), is non-binding – but a majority ‘no’ vote would make it almost impossible for the project to continue.  More than CAD $2 billion (USD $1.5 billion) of Olympics funding promised from the provincial and federal governments is contingent on a satisfactory ‘yes’ result on Tuesday.  The total taxpayer costs are estimated at almost CAD $3 billion of the entire $5.2 billion project.

Ultimately, the decision to move forward will be in the hands of City Councillors who will debate the plebiscite result and vote whether to move forward during a city council meeting, likely next Monday (November 19th).  Last week the Councillors voted 8-7 to skip the plebiscite altogether and shelve the bid immediately – but a super-majority, 10 votes, was required to pass that failed motion.

Councillors have not yet indicated how much of majority they would be comfortable with to move forward with plans, and last week Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that even with a ‘yes’ result – the city could still pull the plug and end the bid.

Two previous Olympic bid plebiscites in Canada resulted in majority ‘yes’ votes, both from cities vying to host the 2010 Games.  Seventy-seven percent of Quebec City voters agreed to let their provincial capital compete in the domestic campaign that was later won by Vancouver.  Then, 64 percent of those who cast ballots in Vancouver approved the bid that went on to earn the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approval as well.

Since then, eight straight cities – all in Europe – have fallen to referendums.

Calgarians will wait until about 10:00pm local time to hear the final count, that will be released as only a single number in one announcement.  There will be no incremental or poll-by-poll reporting ahead of that time.

The IOC will be watching uncomfortably from their headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland on Tuesday.  Of seven applicants, they’ve seen three cities back out while a fourth, Erzurum in Turkey, was excluded from the shortlist due to “high costs.”

Sion in Switzerland lost a summer referendum across the canton of Valais when 54 percent of voters refused to authorize the spending of about USD $100 million to finance the 2026 Olympics.  Graz in Austria withdrew after a petition forced the scheduling of a referendum – Innsbruck, also in Austria had already lost such a vote prior to the IOC application deadline when 53 percent opposed.

Sapporo dropped its 2026 bid after a regional earthquake took 11 lives and damaged some infrastructure, causing the city to target 2030 instead.

Stockholm remains in the race to bring the first Winter Games to Sweden, but the Capital has failed to rally any government support for the project and it will need approvals in place before a January 11 IOC deadline.

A joint Italian bid between Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo emerged just last month, but it lacks federal government funding.  The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has said that the regional government representing the two cities will foot the bill, and last week IOC President Thomas Bach confirmed in Rome that this plan would be accepted.

If Calgary voters say ‘no’ Tuesday, it will be the Italian bid with the best chance of being elected as 2026 host city when the IOC takes the vote at the end of June.

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But if Italy doesn’t make it to the finish line, there are other options for the IOC.  On Wednesday a United States Olympic Committee (USOC) delegation will travel to Salt Lake City to evaluate venues that could be used for a “future Winter Games bid.”  The USOC will make its pick from Denver and SLC before the end of December.  On Monday a bid from Reno-Tahoe dropped from the race.

Though the USOC hasn’t said specifically, that future Games could be in 2026 if all current contenders drop out.  And if that fails, Argentina’s national Olympic Committee says it will be exploring a 2026 Olympic bid.

Both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ sides in Calgary held rallies on Sunday leading up to the vote, and City Councillors were clearly divided between the two events.  Even on social media councilors have chosen sides, underlining the rift that the Olympic bid has caused among Calgarians.

The city, mired in an economic downturn due to the drop in oil prices, will discuss its near-term budget Wednesday – the day after constituents answer the $3 billion question.

Robert Livingstone

About Robert Livingstone

Robert Livingstone is a senior editor, award-winning journalist and author, covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. He is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians. Follow him @enotsgnivil