Key Infrastructure Decisions Shape Possible Calgary 2026 Olympic Bid – But It’s Up To Voters To Decide

Decisions were made this week impacting possible venues and infrastructure that could be important to Calgary’s potential Olympic bid.

Calgary 1988 Ski Jump facility at Canada Olympic Park circa 2005. The structure will be decommissioned this fall (Wikipedia Photo)

Calgary 1988 Ski Jump facility at Canada Olympic Park circa 2005. The structure will be decommissioned this fall (Wikipedia Photo)

Last Friday the Canadian Federal government confirmed funding of CDN $6.8 million (USD $5.27 million) towards improvements to Calgary’s Winsport sliding track at the city’s Olympic park used to host the 1988 Winter Games.

Upgrades to 360 metres of track will include the realignment of the structure, a new cooling system and sunshades, adding several more years to the important Olympic legacy that is used to train elite athletes from around the world.

The new investment follows earlier provincial funding for the facility that will likely be used should Calgary host a future Winter Olympics.

“We’re happy the Government of Canada is joining us with refurbishing the sliding track at WinSport,” Alberta Minister of Culture and Tourism Ricardo Miranda said in a statement.

“Last year the Government of Alberta announced a total $10-million investment over two years to modernize the sliding track through the province’s capital plan.

“It is an investment in our athletes, economy and tourism industry. I’m pleased that today’s additional funding will enable Alberta’s athletes to continue to train at an outstanding facility and maintain WinSport’s standing as a world-class sport centre.”

Calgary 2026 Olympic Bid Plebiscite Approved By City Council

Meanwhile, after 30 years a decision has been made to shut down the iconic ski jump venue, also at Winsport, because it is reportedly “falling apart” due to lack of maintenance.

The two largest jumps have already been shut down but the remaining three smaller jumps are now scheduled for decommissioning later this year.  The venue manager blames “waning interest” in the sport and lack of funds to cover repairs and modernization as the main reasons for the facility’s demise.

A Calgary 2026 Olympic bid would leverage Canada’s only other ski jump in Whistler, British Columbia that was erected for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has already approved the use of more distant facilities as part of the Games masterplan in order to better manage costs and legacy.

On Tuesday Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced CDN $1.53 billion in funding for new light rail service in Calgary, with the first stage due by the end of 2026 – after a potential Winter Games which would occur in February.

While an Olympic Games could hasten the delivery of the infrastructure which may be of value if the world travels to Calgary for the event, the promise of a decade of costly construction ahead of the Olympics could also be seen as a deterrent to bidding for the Games.

Ultimately, that decision will be up to Calgary voters who will need to approve the bid at a plebiscite likely to be scheduled for late this year.

Olympic oversight committee Chair Evan Woolley said Tuesday “The plebiscite will be the final arbiter of whether we make a decision to do this or not.”

The vote is non-binding yet Woolley said its unlikely politicians would proceed against the will of the taxpayers.

Woolley expects to be able to provide Calgarians with updates to budget estimates, and the extent of Federal of Provincial government contributions with a report in June.  He hopes this will allow voters to make a better decision.

At the second meeting of the newly formed oversight committee he said “I would expect that Calgarians are going to have a very clear idea of the operating costs and the capital costs.”

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

Calgary last hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1988

The city reported that $5.2 million has already been spent of the total $30 million allocated to exploring and executing a bid.  City Manager Jeff Fielding complained that “We are under-resourced, significantly under-resourced,” referring the team of city employees who are running pre-bid activities.

Work is currently underway to form a BidCo and hire the leadership team.

Calgary is competing against six other cities including Sion in Switzerland, Graz in Austria, Stockholm in Sweden, Sapporo in Japan, Erzurum in Turkey and either Cortina d’Ampezzo, Turin or Milan in Italy.

Sion could drop out of the race as early as June 10 when it faces a binding canton-wide referendum.  Sapporo has announced that it could end it’s 2026 bid in favor of a run at the 2030 edition instead.  Obstacles face the other cities as well.

The IOC will invite qualified bids to move forward at a meeting in October and elect a winner September 2019.

About Robert Livingstone

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of 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.