Council keeps Olympic dream alive
Additional $2M approved for Olympic exploration
By Anna Junker, News Editor
Calgary’s 2026 Olympic dreams rested on a $2-million decision and a frustrated city council.
On Monday, council was tasked to decide on whether to cough up an additional $2-million on top of the $5-million they already allotted to explore the bid. After much debate, council decided to keep Calgary’s Olympic dreams alive in a 9-4 vote.
Councillors Jeromy Farkas, Peter Demong, Sean Chu and Druh Farrell voted against the funding while Joe Magliocca and Diane Colley-Urquhart were not present. Everyone else was in favour.
Council voted to provide an additional $1-million right away to go towards the bid exploration, while another million will be spent if the federal and provincial governments come on board.
Council was frustrated during the process by the lack of transparency after documents were published in the Globe and Mail, painting a negative picture on the prospect of Calgary hosting the 2026 Games.
The $2-million council voted in favour for would go towards a Bid Corporation, which would have to be formed due to recent changes made to the International Olympic Committee’s 2026 candidature process.
The decision comes after months of reviewing the prospect of hosting the Olympics by Calgary’s Olympic Bid Committee (CBEC), a standalone group that did not operate with city staff. CBEC has since disbanded and now city staff alone are dealing with the Olympic bid file.
How we got here
In September 2016, the members of the CBEC were announced and going forward their task was to explore whether it would make good sense for Calgary to host the Olympics.
In July, CBEC presented their findings to council, which concluded that holding the 2026 Olympic Games was feasible for the city. Council then decided to move forward from Exploration Phase to Invitation Phase. “The Invitation Phase provides the city time to obtain more information and further explore unresolved issues while not requiring any further budget or any formal commitment to bid,”states the City of Calgary’s website.
However, council put forward five conditions to be met moving forward: 1) Capital costs for facilities be covered by municipal, federal and provincial governments 2) Security costs be covered by other orders of government and not the city 3) Canadian taxpayers not cover the operating costs of hosting the 2026 games, with the belief that ticket sales, sponsorship, broadcast rights, International Olympic Committee (IOC) contributions and other earned revenues should cover operating costs 4) The city has limited debt capacity and there must be a financial structure that accommodates cash flow and the debt level constraints of the city and 5) If the IOC wants financial guarantees from the host city, such guarantees must be provided by someone other than the city or be at a level deemed acceptable to the city.
In October, the Bid Exploration Committee told council it would cost $4.6-billion to host the Games, with just over half of the money coming from taxpayers.
Earlier in November, the IOC announced it is trying to make the Game more affordable for hosting cities, adding that it has its “eye on Calgary.” The IOC says there are around 200 cost-saving initiatives and is proposing to sweeten the deal by gifting the host city $925-million USD, according to CTV News.
In the lead up to the exploration into the bid, Calgary was going back and forth with Calgary Flames ownership, looking at whether to build a new arena to replace the aging Scotiabank Saddledome.
Many were thinking with the possibility of an Olympic bid, that would mean Calgary could be getting a new arena.
However, Mayor Naheed Nenshi offered up a differing opinion. In September, he floated the idea of using Edmonton’s new Rogers Place Arena. Nenshi related it to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro where teams played in stadiums across Brazil without actually stepping foot into the city.
‘Get out now’
On Nov 19. The Globe and Mail published an article detailing Olympic-related documents that were not released to the public or city council.
The documents detailed negative reports of Calgary’s Olympic bid, saying the games could “damage Canada’s economy and might not even create any jobs.”
The two reports, one by University of Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe and the other authored by Brad Humphreys, an economics professor at West Virginia University and an “outspoken Olympic critic” were kept under wraps from council.
Councillors had received a summary of Tombe’s report, which was commissioned by city staff in the spring, as part of a larger evaluation for the bid but the full version of the report was unavailable unless specifically asked for.
The reports contradict what the CBEC told council earlier in the year, in which the main argument was favourable towards the games and said it would “buoy the economy.”
On July 24, CBEC informed council that hosting the Olympics could generate “substantial benefits” including approximately 3,000 jobs a year for the nine years leading up to the Games. The group also said the Olympics would increase the gross domestic product from $2.7-billion to $3.1-billion.
“To claim that GDP and employment will increase — at all, but especially by the magnitudes suggested in the third-party reports — is to go far beyond what the evidence suggests,” Tombe’s report said according to The Globe and Mail.
Five cities, including Calgary have expressed interest but none have submitted a formal bid and will need to do so by January 2019.