Calgary Nixes 2026 Olympic Bid Public Consultation; Restarts New Arena Negotiations

Calgary’s City Council Tuesday ruled out the possibility of a non-statutory public hearing over the Canadian city’s possible 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid, instead opting to find other channels for public input ahead of a planned plebiscite.

Olympic Saddledome in Calgary, Canada - host of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games (Wikipedia Photo)

Olympic Saddledome in Calgary, Canada – host of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games.  The City has agreed to restart negotiations to build a replacement arena that would likely serve as a centrepiece for a 2026 Games (Wikipedia Photo)

A 6 to 1 vote against the proposal confirmed Councillors’ strong push-back on holding a council hearing that city administrators said would cover a topic “too broad” and would take too long, lasting an estimated three-to-four days to be added to an already loaded schedule.

Councillor Druh Farrell cast the lone supporting vote, and was forced to accept what she called the “consolation” prize” – an investigation into alternate means of public input on the bid.

The special committee also reviewed and debated plans for a non-binding plebiscite that city council has already voted to conduct ahead of a bid.  City officials have recommended a November vote for the plebiscite, likely on a Saturday but possibly on a Monday.

The city will confirm a final date for the vote no later than September.

Proposed Calgary 2026 Plebiscite Question (Not Confirmed):

Do you support or do you oppose The City of Calgary’s participation in hosting the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games?

_ Yes, I support The City of Calgary’s participation.
_ No, I oppose The City of Calgary’s participation.

Calgary Mayor and Assessment Committee member Naheed Nenshi was concerned with the wording of the initial plebiscite question proposal – he pointed to the use of  “participation” in the question as confusing, and the omission of some detail around funding of the project as problematic.

The question was reviewed, but committee members agreed that further suggestions could be explored at a future meeting no later than June.

City officials suggested that further cost estimates could be available for release in June.

On Monday Council announced that City Manager Jeff Fielding was named City Representative on the board of the Olympic BidCo.  Interviews have already been held to find a Chairman for the organization and an announcement is said to be due soon.

Also Monday, City Council voted to restart talks with the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Calgary Flames over plans to replace the aging Saddledome, a venue built in 1983 and used during the city’s 1988 Olympic Winter Games.  A new committee will be organized to negotiate with stakeholders over funding the new venue that could be a key component of Calgary’s 2026 Olympic bid.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said that Calgary doesn’t need a new arena for a successful Olympic bid, and that the current Saddledome facility and the use of an arena in provincial capital Edmonton instead could cut hundreds of millions of dollars from infrastructure costs.

Last year the IOC said in a published statement that Calgary’s estimated budget of CDN $4.6 billion (USD $3.5 billion) was too high, and could be reduced under new bidding rules.

Calgary 2026 Decision-Making Flowchart (May 2018) - (City of Calgary Handout)

Calgary 2026 Decision-Making Flowchart (May 2018) – (City of Calgary Handout)

The first of two meetings of the Olympic Assessment Committee to be held next month has been scheduled for June 12, two days following a referendum across Valais, Switzerland to determine whether a Sion 2026 Winter Games bid moves forward.

Sion is considered Calgary’s strongest opponent should both projects win their respective public support and move to the next phase.  Political opponents in Graz, Austria are petitioning for a referendum over that city’s bid and organizers behind a Sapporo, Japan bid are considering a delay until 2030 when critical transport infrastructure will be available.

Stockholm in Sweden and a host from among Cortina d’Ampezzo, Turin and Milan in Italy are still seeking government approvals for their 2026 bids; and Erzurum in Turkey is pushing forward despite security concerns due to city’s proximity to Syria.

The IOC will invite qualified interested cities to advance to the candidate phase at a meeting early in October and the host city will be elected in September 2019.

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