Members from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will be in Calgary Wednesday to face the media and answer questions just days before citizens head to the polls to determine the fate of their city’s bid to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games.
IOC Executive Director Christophe Dubi and Head of Promotion Hannah Burns are attending at the request of the Calgary 2026 bid committee to respond to any outstanding questions voters may have before they fill their ballots November 13.
Plebiscite campaigns from both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ sides have sparked a contentious debate in the city with support for the project teetering around 50 percent. The results are not binding, but if fewer than half the voters say they back the project the Province of Alberta will cancel its plans to provide CAD $700 million funding for the Games. Without clear support and loss of funding, the City Council will likely drop the bid.
The stakes are high for both Calgary and the IOC as the Canadian city is proposing a plan to renew facilities built for the 1988 Olympics so that they can continue to serve Canadian and International athletes for further generations. The plan will cost CAD $5.23 billion (USD $4 billion), of which CAD $3 billion will be funded by taxpayers.
Opponents of the project point to hefty cost overruns attached to recent Olympics and corruption within the IOC as factors making an Olympic bid too risky for the city.
On Monday Canadian Taxpayers Federation representatives donned “Stockholm 2026” T-shirts and Swedish flags while handing out meatballs in front of a local IKEA store in mock support of Calgary’s rival bid. They said on social media that a winning bid in Sweden would result in saved tax dollars in Canada.
Stockholm’s bid remains unsupported by the city’s new coalition government that has refused to allocate any spending to the project. The Swedish Olympic Committee (SOK) remains undeterred, pushing plans for a privately funded Games that will only require taxpayer contributions for security and guarantees. SOK officials are hopeful that talks with the city will continue ahead of a January 11 IOC deadline to secure municipal support, but are investigating ways of moving forward even if that fails.
A joint bid by Italy’s Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo remains as the third horse in the race, but it lacks federal government funding and still needs to secure other guarantees. With Capital Rome dropping out of both the 2020 and 2024 Games bids when guarantees were due, the Winter Games bid starts on shaky ground.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is announcing its endorsement of Stockholm, Sweden’s 2026 Olympic bid.
— Sammy Hudes (@SammyHudes) October 22, 2018
The IOC, an organization that has a firm grasp on process and protocol, has very rarely paid unscheduled visits to bid cities mid-campaign, but this will be the second time in recent months that Dubi and Burns have traveled to Calgary to answer questions about the bid.
With only three cities struggling to remain in the race, rigid IOC rules seem to be getting more flexible. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who’s government disappointed Calgary 2026 with lower-than-expected proposed funding, seems willing to test the IOC’s resolve.
She told The Canadian Press “If there is a gap between what needs to be put forward and what is out there, perhaps maybe the IOC ought to be looking at what they could put in.”
The Federal government has yet to announce what funding it plans to provide a successful bid.
“There’s not a whole swack of people out there begging for the Olympics so maybe we should be a price giver not a price taker on this,” Notley added.
Calgary Mayor Neheed Nenshi agreed saying “I believe there is something to be said for that position. Certainly anyone looking at negotiations might say ‘there’s a bargaining position here.'”
Closing the funding gap would amount to the IOC providing capital investment in Calgary’s infrastructure, something the world sport body has shied away from.
The IOC is not in the habit of adjusting its host city contract that it provides bid committees and governments months in advance of the Olympic bid election. Only Los Angeles was able to negotiate specific payment terms (impacting the timing) with the IOC when the City agreed to concede its 2024 bid to Paris in exchange for the 2028 Games over eleven years ahead of the opening ceremony.
Now with Calgary looking to close a potential funding gap, Stockholm trying to move forward without a City guarantee and Italy’s project lacking federal funds, the IOC could be left with no choice but to change its own rules – or end up without a host city.
Dubi and Burns will tour Calgary’s 1988 legacy at Canada Olympic Park Wednesday before joining Calgary 2026 in a briefing. They will also visit with members of the city council and staff, with many questions on the table.