Vancouver warned not enough time for BC 2030 Olympic bid – but are the timelines real?

Vancouver city councilors were warned last week that there is not enough time to fully vet a bid for the 2030 Olympic Winter Games. Due to that constraint, municipal staff reported that they were in no position to direct council on whether to move forward with the bid, or not.

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

“At the time of this report, staff is not in a position to provide a definitive recommendation to Council that the City advance or decline participation in the BC bid for the 2030 Winter Games,” city manager Karen Levitt wrote in a report to be presented to Vancouver’s Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities Wednesday (July 20).

Further, the report indicated that there was no time for a bid at all within current accepted timelines.

But have these timelines been officially set by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)? The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) says ‘no’.

Among concerns in the report that was requested by city council in March is the absence of an approval by First Nations’ leadership to move forward with the project that the group will lead. This decision has been considered the first step in the process and is expected to be delivered in July or August. The city manager was also concerned that “Financial indemnifications and governance models” are not yet known and that there is no senior government yet willing to financially guarantee the Games. Without such indemnification, the city faces “potentially unlimited financial risk.”

Although these items may only require time to solve, the report states that lack of time may be of greatest concern to staff.

“It is staff’s view that there is insufficient time for the requisite work to be done by staff to evaluate the potential benefits, costs and risks to the City, and to negotiate the necessary legal agreements by the COC’s deadline of December 2022,” the report emphasized.

The report goes on to list the vast amount of missing information that would be required to file an effective report on the feasibility of hosting the 2030 Games, and underlines the “unprecedented workload” staff is already facing that is magnified during the current pandemic staff shortages.  Other sports priorities such as preparations for the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the 2025 Invictus Games, among other high-profile events, have added pressure to the city’s staff who are also preparing for a municipal election to be held October 15.

The report was generally positive on the benefits of hosting the Games as it explored the legacy of Vancouver 2010, pointing to the value of federal investments in venue upgrades, transit improvements and housing. Efforts towards Truce and Reconciliation, a boost to the local economy and civic pride were also noted as positive outcomes, but without financial details and more importantly, time – a decision on a 2030 bid was described as premature.

BC Premier John Horgan told Global News Monday that his government is waiting for more information from the COC before making a decision, he said “It would be irresponsible of me to make a significant multiple million dollar investment without seeing what the final consequences would be.”

“If the Canadian Olympic Committee says we are moving too slowly then maybe they should pass and let someone else do it. We want to do it right. We are not prepared to sign a blank cheque,” he added.

Earlier this month the BC 2030 Feasibility team released a preliminary budget that included CAD $1 billon to CAD $1.2 billion (USD $773 million to USD $927 million) in public costs  to be funded among federal, provincial and municipal governments to cover security, venue improvements and other capital costs.

A CAD $2.5 billion to CAD $2.8 billion (USD $1.93 billion to USD $2.16 billion) budget has been estimated to cover operational costs that would be privately funded through revenues from ticket and merchandise sales along with sponsorships and contributions from the IOC.

When asked, COC officials wouldn’t confirm who would sign the host city agreement with the IOC.

Staff recommended that councilors take this current report as information only until the further details with respect to funding, indemnification and leadership are available – and make a final decision at that time. But the report offered a final caveat, “It is the view of staff that the proposed timeline to submit a bid as currently constituted is not achievable.”

Under new IOC bidding rules, there are no fixed timelines but instead an ongoing dialogue process that turns into a bid once one or more preferred candidates are identified. According to the spirit of the new process launched in 2019, the IOC would launch a targeted dialogue with preferred candidates only when the timing is mutually beneficial. Proposals underway from Salt Lake City in the United States and Sapporo in Japan, along with B.C, are currently campaigning but all parties have been clear – none are officially bids.

But earlier this year IOC officials, including its president Thomas Bach, discussed a hypothetical timeline during a press briefing that set an IOC Executive Board meeting of December 5-7 this year as the time the body would officially choose final candidates for a 2030 bid. That would in theory, they said, be followed with a membership election of the host city at the next IOC Session to be held in Mumbai, India on May 30, 2023. These dates have not been published by the IOC.

IOC President Thomas Bach addresses members at the 139th IOC Session in Lausanne, Switzerland May 20, 2022 (IOC Photo)
IOC President Thomas Bach addresses members at the 139th IOC Session in Lausanne, Switzerland May 20, 2022 (IOC Photo)

This timeline is not mandated by the Olympic Charter, and the Executive Board could choose no bids at all should none meet its requirements later this year. The decision could instead be delayed until the next Executive Board meeting set for May 27-29 also in Mumbai, or even later.

Comments made by Bach at a May 20 press conference launched the narrative supporting the currently accepted timeline, and the dates that have been embraced in planning by the interested bidders – including BC 2030. But those remarks were entirely non-committal.

Bach then said “The [Executive Board] acknowledged the thorough ongoing work by the Future Host Commission and some strong value proposals which may lead us to be in a position to elect a host for the 2030 Games at the 140th IOC Session in Mumbai next year (emphasis added).”

He continued “In order to get there, the Executive Board would have to take the decision about the targeted dialogue in December during its meeting.”

Due to the IOC’s insistence that all bid discussions remain confidential, it is unclear if any firm time commitments or expectations have been discussed or agreed upon among current interested bidders.

But a spokesperson from the BC 2030 Feasibility Team revealed to Monday that the timelines discussed in current planning are not official.

A further statement sent to news outlets Monday made clear that the COC thinks it has the time to accommodate the needs of stakeholders, it read “should all local councils express a desire to continue moving forward, we believe that it is definitely possible to meet the relevant milestones within domestic and international bid processes with proper information available to support informed decision making of all parties.”

The landscape has also changed since Bach’s May 20 remarks with a bid from Spain dropping out last month due to a disagreement on the venue allocation between partner regions. Recent reports suggest that Salt Lake City could shift its candidacy to 2034 instead due to a domestic conflict with the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games being staged only 18 months ahead of the proposed 2030 edition. If BC was left behind due to time constraints the IOC may be in the awkward position of having only Sapporo vying for 2030 – and not much room to negotiate.

Sapporo’s bid has received most necessary approvals and will be ready if the IOC decides to move forward in December.  But if the IOC is really interested in Vancouver and the BC 2030 bid – and a contested bid race – it could simply shift its casually suggested timeline and include all interested cities at a later date.

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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