Calgary sets sights on potential 2026 Winter Games bid

It’s been 29 years since Calgary welcomed the world during the 1988 Winter Olympics. Those games have been since remembered for their success, not only in terms of execution, but also for the bottom line. The ’88 Calgary Games were one of the most expensive (yet profitable) Olympics ever held, as the organizing committee generated record sponsorship and TV revenues. The most recent valuation of those games from Oxford Said Business School puts the Calgary Games price-tag at $1.1 billion (in 2015 dollars).

The opening ceremony of the XV Winter Olympic Games in February 1988, Calgary (Getty Images)

Fast-forward to 2026, Calgary is aiming to do the same thing, although the price tag moving toward 2026 could be much more inflated. Initial reports from the Calgary Sports Tourism Authority estimated a cost of $5.3 billion for Calgary to host, which is less than the $7.7 billion budget spent on the 2010 Vancouver Games.

In June 2016, the City of Calgary approved a $5 million feasibility study to evaluate the practicality, costs, security, risks and opportunities of hosting another Winter Games in the Calgary area. Since then, the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) and supporting volunteer committees have been formed to assess these areas.

Exploring the potential to bid

Calgary’s current committee is not a bid committee. They’re simply at the starting line and, through their work, seem to create more questions as the process continues.

Rick Hanson, the chair of the Bid Exploration Committee explained to CBC Calgary,

We have to look at – do we have the facilities, are the facilities left over from ’88 still good enough to host? If not, what would it cost to bring them up to speed? People don’t realize there’s twice as many events and athletes as there were in ’88.

According to the CBEC update from January 23, 2017, the committee plans to propose its recommendation to the city by July 2017. The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) will then have to work with the candidate-city to prepare a City Declaration bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for September 2017. The bid campaign for candidate-cities will run throughout 2018 and the election of the host-city will be determined in 2019.

Yet the success of another Canadian Winter Olympics may not come so easily, even if cost estimates are favourable. Evaluating the validity of a potential bid, there are a few factors that may deter the city from placing a bid. First, if the valuation assessment presents an extremely high cost to the city and, second, if there is no public support from the communities and the general public in Calgary.

And the ‘Western City’ isn’t the first at the table

Aside from Calgary’s own assessment from City Council, there’s other competition on the horizon.

The Swiss Olympic Committee is making strides on presenting a bid, but the country is facing its own referendum issues with the Canton of Graubunden voting ‘no’ to hosting. Out of the five potential candidate cities, one will have to be chosen by March 6, 2017. Depending on which city represents the Swiss, the country would be building on its already-confirmed Youth Olympics for Lausanne in 2020.

Innsbruck, Austria, the host of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Games are conducting a study on the feasibility of a bid for the 2026 Games and will announce its findings mid-2017. The City of Calgary lost out to Innsbruck once before, during the bid campaign for the 1964 Games.

In late January, the Swedish Olympic Committee announced it will likely bid on the 2026 games to be held in Stockholm, following results from a feasibility study that’s also being conducted. In 2014 the city dropped out of the race for the 2022 Olympics due to the political party in power at the time unable to support the project over cost concerns.

There are also reports of the state of Utah, site of the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, expressing interest to bid again for 2026. Sapporo, Japan has been in talks to consider bids, along with Helsinki, Finland, who may choose to joint-bid with neighbouring country Norway. It is also likely that the runner-up from the 2022 bidding campaign (Almaty, Kazakhstan) may take another chance at 2026.

There’s still hope

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has publicly restated his support for Calgary’s Bid Exploration Committee, saying: “I’ve seen some very advanced draft work, very sophisticated financial analysis that the committee is working on, that makes me feel much more comfortable that this could look more like Calgary ’88.

Yet money is tight in Calgary right now, especially with the economy heavily reliant on oil and gas with the industry on the downfall. Speaking of Calgary ’88, that decade was hit hard with recessions in the energy sector and those games helped garner civic pride and jump-started city wide development.

I would only support it [Calgary’s bid] in this city if it made financial sense. I’m raising my kids in this city, so if it doesn’t make financial sense, I wouldn’t want that to happen because I don’t want to set this city up for failure

Catriona Le May Doan, Olympic speed skater and Bid Exploration Committee member, told 660news in Calgary.

The current committee has expressed interest in providing opportunities for public feedback, launching a website in early February called Should Calgary Bid? It aims to provide information to citizens on the work they are doing and reassures that, regardless of what City Council decides, the work the CBEC is conducting will help guide the city in future hosting decisions.

There’s great debate about the economic benefit of the Games itself, from Federal support, the city’s budget and public opinions. Though questions remain as to whether the city can show a long-term economic boost at a reasonable price-tag, there is the potential for a successful candidate-city bid for the Olympics to return to The Great North.

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