Calgary Assessment Committee Recommends Cancellation Of 2026 Olympic Bid

Calgary’s 2026 Olympic Bid Assessment Committee will recommend in a motion to City Council that all Olympic Winter bid activities be cancelled immediately – and that Canada’s entry be removed from the race.

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

After meeting behind closed doors for over four hours, Councillor and Committee Chair Evan Woolley emerged and announced the committee’s intention, based on the inability for the three levels of government – Calgary, Alberta and the Government of Canada – to reach a satisfactory funding arrangement with sufficient time ahead of a planned plebiscite.

“The clock has run out and it’s time to move on,” Woolley said.

If the motion is approved by the full city council scheduled to meet Wednesday morning, the November 13 plebiscite will also be cancelled.  Ten of 15 votes will be required to end the bid entirely.

“I think we had one of the best discussions we’ve ever had on this topic,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said of the prolonged debate among committee members before reaching their decision.

“We had a very good and thoughtful discussion.”

Nenshi later told reporters that the committee had discussed cutting costs from the budget, but they couldn’t close the gap, and wouldn’t have time to communicate changes to the public ahead of the plebiscite.

Calgary 2026 Chair Scott Hutcheson remained upbeat after the committee motion. He said “Negotiations with government are positive, are continuing – they have not stopped – and we remain confident an agreement will be reached.”

Canadian Olympians are mobilizing on social media to try to convince Councillors to save the bid Wednesday and instead send it to a plebiscite.  They’ll attend council chambers for the debate and vote, and urge others to show up wearing red.

The meeting of the Calgary 2026 Olympic Assessment Committee had been hastily rescheduled to Tuesday morning to deal with the emerging funding debacle, and review the report issued by negotiators.  A motion to end the bid was expected.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi had said in City Council chambers that negotiators worked late into Monday night and that there was an update for the committee.

“There have been a number of inaccurate leaks in terms of what is and is not on the table which certainly makes the job of the negotiating team much harder,” Nenshi said after the negotiators were named and thanked.

“The negotiating teams have continued to do great work, it’s frustrating,” he said in council chambers Tuesday morning.

Federal Sport Minister Kirsty Duncan told reporters prior to the decision by the committee “Myself, our officials, and all levels of government worked late into the night, into the wee hours of the morning, and we are very hopeful – and we have worked well together and we remain very optimistic.”

The funding issue emerged Friday when the federal government announced it would provide CAD $1.75 billion (adjusted to 2026), but with a dollar-to-dollar matching funds formula.  Though that had been Canada’s funding model for recent large events including the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games, Nenshi said he understood that the formula would change for Calgary 2026, freeing up more cash for the Games.

Under the current terms, the bid would be far short of its $3 billion taxpayer contribution target.  The total cost of the Games is estimated at $5.2 billion and would include a new community arena, field house and affordable housing – as well as several upgrades to current facilities.  Some of the cash would also be held in a $1.1 billion contingency reserve fund.

The Calgary Herald reported that on Friday Nenshi, who was surprised by the federal government’s announcement, wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explaining “If we cannot come to a mutually agreeable conclusion by Monday, I deeply regret that I will have no choice but to request that Calgary City Council cancel the plebiscite and thus terminate the bid; an event none of us want…”

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) meets with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on December 21, 2016 (Photo: Twitter @JustinTrudeau)

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) meets with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on December 21, 2016 (Photo: Twitter @JustinTrudeau)

Calgary, according to Nenshi’s letter obtained by the Calgary Herald, had been expecting to contribute $370 million.  The Province of Alberta has been firm on its $700 million commitment.

If councilors vote to end Canada’s Olympic bid, that will leave only Stockholm in Sweden and a joint bid from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy vying to host the 2026 Games.  But the two European cities are also facing obstacles as they try to secure funding and government buy-in.

Sweden’s National Olympic Committee (SOK) is trying to sell the Stockholm Games to a new city coalition government that has already declared that it would not extend taxpayer funds for an Olympic project.  No meetings between the SOK and the city have been scheduled.  The Swedish federal government has yet to organize its Parliament after elections were held earlier this year, and its support is required from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

In Italy, a bid that was quickly stitched together between Milan and Cortina in order to meet an application deadline remains unorganized and without a promise of government funding.  Regional leaders are hoping they can extend sufficient financing that, in conjunction with private investment, could help deliver the low cost concept.

The IOC has set a January 11 deadline for the submission of bid books complete with signed government guarantees.  Without those finalized documents, a city would be excluded from the race.

But if that results in a scenario with no cities left willing to host the Games, the IOC may have to change its rules.

The IOC has never faced a Winter Olympics with no city willing to host.

Meanwhile, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) revealed this week that it will nominate a U.S. bid city to campaign for a “future Games” by the end of the year.

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