In a close vote late Tuesday, Calgary city council passed a motion to continue supporting the city’s 2026 Olympic Winter Games bid. With eight votes in favour and six opposed, the close vote reveals that Councillors are getting impatient with the drawn-out process.
A similar motion to provide funding after a report in November last year had the support of nine Councillors against four who were opposed.
The city is waiting for word from the provincial and federal governments on possible contributions of $10.5 million and $10 million to the project respectively, and the Calgary 2026 project committee asked that CAD $1 million (USD $768,000) be forwarded by the city for continued bid preparation and funding of a Bid Corporation (BidCo). Also requested was an additional $2.5 million on reserve to round up the city’s total contribution of $9.5 million, should the other funds come through.
Had City Council voted against providing the necessary funding approval, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the Olympic project “would be dead.”
The city says it has “positive indications” that it will receive the required government funding “soon” and during the meeting Nenshi announced he had “breaking news” that he shared with the council but didn’t make public. Last week the city erroneously released a report that suggested the funding had already been approved by both governments but a later corrected report revealed that talks continue.
During the council debate, city project manager Kyle Ripley who is directing the bid exploration said that the original estimated Games cost of CAD $4.6 billion may increase once inflation and further contingencies are factored in. Last year International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials released a statement that they believed the estimate to be high, and that further cost-savings would be available.
Councillor Sean Chu was expected Tuesday to propose a motion to hold a plebiscite over the bid, but the meeting was recessed at about 10:00pm local time and the remainder of the agenda was postponed to Wednesday. According to a city clerk estimate, a plebiscite would take six months to prepare and cost close to CAD $2 million. The motion is not expected to pass.
But Chu, who has been an opponent of the bid throughout the process said to “never give up” in a Tweet after the vote.
— Sean Chu (@seanchucalgary) March 21, 2018
The bid project team will organize a public outreach program, including an interactive Website and public consultations, and will provide feedback for the Calgary City Council when it makes its decision whether to move forward with a bid, likely in June.
The IOC will invite qualified candidates to bid in October, and bid books are due next January.
Along with Calgary, bids from Graz in Austria, Sapporo in Japan, Sion in Switzerland and Stockholm in Sweden have already entered discussions with the IOC. Other cities have until March 31 to deliver a letter-of-interest; currently Erzurum in Turkey and Turin and Milan in Italy are considering the opportunity and Lillehammer, Norway may bid for the 2026 or 2030 Games.
Each city, like Calgary, have obstacles to overcome before they can hope to be on the final ballot when the IOC elects a winning city in September 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.