On the eve of a likely decisive plebiscite over Calgary’s 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid, GamesBids.com had the opportunity to ask Yes Calgary 2026 spokesperson Jason Ribeiro some fundamental questions. He represents one voice in our three-part series of final thoughts at the end of a contentious Olympic bid debate.
The Yes Calgary 2026 Society is and independent organization comprised of Calgarians with a passion for bringing the Olympic Games to Calgary. Here’s the transcript:
GamesBids.com: Though the bid has understandably spent much effort explaining to Calgarians why a 2026 Olympic Games is good for Calgary – can you explain why Calgary 2026 would be good for the Olympic and Paralympic Movements?
Jason Ribeiro: “We very simply are the best choice – across all metrics. That’s not hubris, but a testament to what I believe are our clear strengths.
We possess much of the world’s intellectual capital related to hosting winter sports. Since 1988 we have hosted over 220 world cups and world championships (perhaps more than any other place on the planet). We have hosted arguably two of the best winter games in history. We finish in the Top 3 in medal hauls consistently. But let’s think beyond winter sports for a moment.
In an increasingly divisive and dangerous world, Calgary, Alberta, and Canada shine as a beacon of hope for people around the globe. Our peacekeeping efforts, pursuit of truth and reconciliation, welcoming of Syrian refugees, etc. showcase a country ready to welcome the world to our land. In the last 20 years, our arts and culture sector (particularly in film and music) have shaped the future direction of the mediums themselves. Don’t forget that the #1 rapper in the world right now wears the maple leaf with great pride. Our people are kind in spirit and eager to lend a helping hand. I cannot emphasize enough how many folks I’ve spoken to who are even more excited to host the Paralympics than the Olympics. From the community organizing perspective, I can ensure folks that these will be the most inclusive games in history. We will work tirelessly for that to end up being a true statement. These are our games, and we believe this to be our time.”
GB: What about the IOC’s new bid process, and Agenda 2020, has enabled Calgary 2026 to be a better project than it may have been a few years ago? Do you think Agenda 2020 misses the mark in Calgary, where there is strong desire for new infrastructure?
JR: “The changes the IOC has implemented to the bid process, in my mind, have been transformative. They still have reputational issues, and should we win the Games, I will be one of the loudest voices ensuring visitors to our city play by our rules and on our terms.
That being said, I’m a big believer in giving credit where credit is due; walk that backs up the talk. They said they would release the host contract in advance – they did. They said they would provide financial incentives to cities to bid – they did ($1.2 billion CAD; $700 million cash). They said they want interested cities to reduce the cost of hosting – the prospective bids show a 15-20% overall reduction in average costs. They said they wanted cities to re-use existing venues in an attempt to be more sustainable – the prospective bids show 60-80% re-use of existing venues. They have visited our city many times to address our citizens. I don’t think any of that misses the mark. I think that’s exactly how good business should be conducted.
I don’t think the demand for new infrastructure is a need unique to Calgary. That being said, we must be pragmatic and ensure we are getting the most return for our tax dollars and pursuing a course of positive social and economic benefit. Agenda 2020 has ensured that course is feasible.”
GB: In the balance between more legacy and less risk/less cost, do you feel Calgary 2026 has reached a plan that’s right for Calgarians? What would you tell Calgarians who expected nothing less than an NHL-caliber arena?
JR: “I believe that balance has been struck by the folks at Calgary 2026. Given the expertise that’s being drawn upon from the Canadian Olympic Committee, VANOC, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, etc. – I believe they have put together a responsible and thoughtful bid that is right for Calgary at this point in time. More importantly, I believe it to be a bid that will win in June 2019.
Public polling is very telling (even outside of the plebiscite). Polls often show folks want an increased amount of municipal services, but at the same time, want their level of taxation capped or even lowered. I think the ‘No’ side is trying to exploit the same disconnect here. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say ‘there are not enough goodies in it for me,’ denigrate the efforts of those who have tried to keep costs low, and then classify it as too costly. Those ideas are incommensurate.
In terms of the arena – I think nothing gets both sides closer together than a ‘Yes’ vote on November 13th. I highly doubt we will be showing off the Saddledome in 2026 if we bid for and win the Games. I am glad, however, that a big, contentious project like that (which involves private ownership) was kept outside of the bid. If we want to build a new arena, and the political motivation is there, we will.”
“We have 7 years to get our house in order and display our world-class project management skills, our world-class winter sports amenities, and most importantly, our incredible people.” – Jason Ribeiro
GB: Do you think it’s important to Calgarians that the city elevate its brand on the international stage? Will the 2026 Olympics further improve the Calgary brand beyond what the 1988 Games already did for the city? How?
JR: “I think it’s of paramount importance – and not just because hosting the Games are equivalent to hosting 31 Super Bowls (what city wouldn’t jump at the chance to pursue that kind of marketing exercise). It is important because it would help address very clear needs for Calgary: attracting talent and presenting a more diversified economy to the world. Calgary 2026 CEO, Mary Moran (in her former work as CEO of Calgary Economic Development) and Mayor Nenshi often travel abroad to try and poach talent, but piecemeal efforts like that often have limited effectiveness.
Chris Dempsey of No Boston Olympics recently weighed in on our bid. He said, ‘You don’t move your company or family to a city because they held a big event. You move your company or family to a city because it has a skilled workforce, a good education system, access to markets, and a good quality of life.’ I believe this to be true – and it proves a broader point. Why is Mr. Dempsey seemingly unaware that we have one of the highest educational attainment and labour productivity rates in the country, Alberta’s education system is consistently ranked one of the best in world according to the OECD, Calgary is a designated foreign trade zone, and we were recently ranked the 4th most liveable city on the planet according to the Economist Intelligence Unit? If Calgary (by his description) already possesses all the features that would be attractive to new businesses and families, perhaps we would benefit from a platform like the Games (and $1 billion in free advertising) to showcase our attractiveness to the world.
I think we have an opportunity to build on the legacy of 1988 while charting a new path forward in 2026. In ‘88, folks on the ground felt the Games were needed, in some sense, to define the future of the city. 2026, as I see it, would be an opportunity to showcase the very best of what we’ve defined over the last 30 years (and eventually 38). We have 7 years to get our house in order and display our world-class project management skills, our world-class winter sports amenities, and most importantly, our incredible people. We are a more diverse Calgary than we once were, and coupled with hosting the Paralympics. I believe we can show the world much more than an economic or sports legacy: we can let folks know that you belong in Calgary, Alberta, and Canada.”
Other Calgary 2026 Voices: