Vancouver City Council scheduled to debate possible plebiscite over 2030 Olympic bid

Vancouver city council could put the fate of the city’s 2030 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bid in the hands of constituents when it debates the possibility of a plebiscite at next Tuesday’s council meeting.  According to the motion introduced by Colleen Hardwick, a councilor who had been vocally opposed to a bid when it was first debated in council in 2020, the plebiscite question would be added to the municipal election ballot planned for October 15 this year.

Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremony (IOC Photo)
Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremony (IOC Photo)

The question would simply ask “Do you support or do you oppose the City of Vancouver’s participation in hosting the 2030 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games?”

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) unveiled plans last December for the first-ever indigenous-led Olympic bid and in the following weeks First Nations leaders along with participating municipalities have signed a collaboration agreement that respects the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action and for reconciliation through sport.

Hardwick’s motion paints a bleak picture of the future viability of the Games stating “Viewership of the Winter Olympics is falling. The recent 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics saw the lowest U.S. ratings ever, according to NPR. The Wall Street Journal reports that TV viewership of the 2022 Beijing Games dropped 42% from 2018.”

It added “TV viewership contributes to the financial viability of the games [sic].”

While television viewership has been on the decline for the Olympics, digital viewership has skyrocketed with records shattered for both the Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 editions.

In 2018 citizens in Calgary voted 56.4 percent against a planned bid for the 2026 Winter Games in that Canadian city, ending a run at its second Olympics.  In a 2003 plebiscite, Vancouver voters supported the city’s winning 2010 bid with 63.9 percent in favor and 36.1 percent opposed.

A poll taken in December showed those across the province of British Columbia were split over the prospect of bidding for the Games.

Over the past ten years the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has seen several promising bids drop out of the running due to failed public votes, often leaving few electable options to choose from.  That failure rate has forced the organization to rebuild its bid process and develop a more opaque system where cities are engaged directly and quietly until a strong partnership is found.

Due to public fears over the costs and risks of the Games that have led to the public pushback of hosting, the IOC has also changed bid requirements and now encourages regional and sustainable models that leverage existing venues wherever they are already available.  Operational costs have also been cut due to minimized requirements.

Canada explores first-ever Indigenous-led Olympic bid with First Nations eyeing a Vancouver 2030 Winter Games

The IOC has no set timetable for the election of the 2030 host of the Games, but is actively discussing projects from three other nations and could name a preferred candidate at any time, even ahead of the proposed Vancouver plebiscite date.  While Salt Lake City in the United States and Sapporo in Japan do not require a public vote to move forward with plans, a bid from Pyrenees-Barcelona in Spain will face a referendum this spring.

A plebiscite in Vancouver could occur in the fall if city council approves it next week.  As the Games franchisee, the COC has yet to confirm that it will forward any bid from Canada to the IOC.

The next winter Games will be staged in 2026 by Milan-Cortina in Italy.

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.

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