City Council Monday voted 9 to 6 to save Calgary’s 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid, and to further explore the opportunity at least until June when another vote will be held. The vote followed a lengthy and impassioned debate over the Winter Games possible return to Canada for the third time.
Had the vote been lost, Calgary would have been forced to exit the 2026 Olympic bid race.
With some Councilors cooling to the idea of an Olympic bid after last week’s debate, it seemed likely that Council would take the “off-ramp” and end the bid Monday. But Councilors Ward Sutherland and Diane Colley-Urquhart, who had last week said they could no longer support the initiative, changed their minds and instead voted to move the process forward.
Last week City Council met to discuss an estimated CAD $1.9 million (USD $1.5) public engagement initiative designed to add transparency to a potential Olympic bid, but instead it passed a motion to reconsider the bid, and potentially end it.
Council then voted 9-1 to hold the ‘temperature check’.
Councillor Shane Keating set the tone of the debate with a motion that should the bid be approved to continue, the formation of a special subcommittee chaired by a Councillor and including three additional Councillors and the Mayor, be formed to oversee the project in conjunction with the project team.
With the motion passed, this subcommittee will create closer ties between the Olympic bid project team and the City Council, and facilitate better information sharing.
The subcommittee will also give Council better access to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Councilors considered naming Peter Demong to Chair the subcommittee.
City council will discuss the formation of the subcommittee, and how to handle the public engagement and a likely October plebiscite, at a meeting next Monday (April 23).
City Council pushed for the “temperature check” vote due to several missteps, including the publishing of incorrect government funding information and the perceived lack of transparency and neutrality in the process.
The notice given by City Council last week mobilized bid proponents, including several Olympians and elite athletes who became vocal on social media and during a Friday press conference. Calgarians also joined the debate, many urging Councillors to put the bid to a plebiscite.
City Councillors acknowledged that they had received “thousands” of emails and messages from constituents making their opinions on the bid known.
The Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) has already spent CAD $6.5 million over two years to get the project this far and has been guaranteed $10.5 million from the Federal government and $9.5 million from the province to finance the bid forward to the September 2019 IOC election. No additional funds will be spent prior to a further June decision on whether to continue the bid.
The bid project team told Councilors that if the bid is withdrawn at that point, the remaining funds would be returned to taxpayers.
Calgary last hosted the Games in 1988, and Canada last staged the Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010.
Last year Innsbruck in Austria pulled out of the 2026 race after losing a referendum and the replacement nominee, Graz, may also need to face a public vote.
Sion in Switzerland faces a binding regional referendum on June 10, and a majority oppose the bid in recent polls.
Bids from Stockholm and either Cortina d’Ampezzo, Milan or Turin in Italy are still challenged with securing government support which may not be forthcoming.
The remaining bidders, Sapporo in Japan and Erzurum in Turkey, have few hurdles ahead of an October 3 meeting where the IOC will invite qualified cities to move forward.
A winner will be elected September 2019.
More to come…