Calgary, which once looked like such a strong candidate to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, is watching as its bid goes down in flames, the victim of doubts about funding.
According to the Calgary Herald, the Calgary City Council is expected to vote today on a recommendation to pull out of negotiations with the provincial and federal governments over how the three levels of government would split funding for the $3 billion price tag required for the bid. (The remaining costs of the $5.2 billion bid were expected to be covered by revenue from the Games.)
For several months, the bid had looked – at least from the outside – like a sure thing. But as more concerns were raised about costs, it became obvious this was far from the perfect scenario. The Herald notes,
Talks between the parties continued Monday following a fraught weekend of negotiations that saw confidential correspondence from Mayor Naheed Nenshi published by Postmedia and accusations from the province that Ottawa isn’t bargaining in good faith. Approximately $3 billion is required to cover the public portion of the Olympic bill.
Postmedia revealed late last week that the federal government’s financial commitment would come with strings attached, including a condition that the province and the city match federal dollars.While the condition appears to be in line with Canada’s host city funding policy, it came as a surprise to provincial and municipal officials who have been urging Ottawa behind the scenes for months to agree to take on more than 50 per cent.
In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday, Nenshi said the city had been “clear and consistent” that if the government of Canada required a dollar for dollar match, “this project cannot proceed.” Nenshi went on to say that with the plebiscite fast approaching, “citizens do not know what kind of a deal we are talking about despite our promises that they would have plenty of time to analyze the deal before voting.”
“This is untenable,” Nenshi wrote, warning he would ask council to terminate the bid if a deal could not be reached.
The IOC had formally invited Calgary to become a candidate city for 2026, along with Stockholm, Sweden and Milan/Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. However, the issue of Calgary hosting the Games was expected to be put to a plebiscite, or citywide vote, in November. (According to an article in Inside The Games, the result of the vote would not be binding, though it had been widely assumed that if the bid were to lose, it would mark its collapse.)
The latest failure of a candidate city to be able to gain support for an Olympic bid has become something of an epidemic as worldwide, city officials are learning the Olympics cannot be forced on an unwilling democracy. Boston enthusiasts saw their own bid collapse in the wake of the #NoBostonOlympics movement. In Hamburg, local citizens also voted on an Olympic referendum and as a result, the bid was terminated. In Rome, officials refused to continue a bid based on financial concerns as well.
The other two candidate cities for 2026 aren’t sitting around, waiting for the result of Calgary’s decision to come through. Stockholm has officially launched its campaign to persuade its own city council of the viability of a bid, although following some political reshuffling, that support may be in jeopardy. The Italian bid for Milan/Cortina d’Ampezzo is moving forward. Originally, the bid was for a three-pronged host site that would include Turin but the Italian government refused to that effort.
The problem with both these bids, according to Inside The Games, is that they lack full political support – and could be headed down the same road as the Calgary bid.
Nevertheless, the IOC says it is moving forward with its selection. An evaluation commission will be appointed by the IOC and will travel to the canidate cities that remain in March and April 2019. The commission will then publish a report in June 2019 prior to the election of the host city at the 134th IOC Session.
Meanwhile, the world has taken notice. Start to type “Nobody wants to host” into Google and it will complete the sentence with “the Olympics.” Hit on any one of the search results and you get headlines, like Nobody wants to host the Olympics any more – will they go away? and The Olympics aren’t good for cities; Can the magic of the Games survive?
An excerpt from an article in Business Insider notes, “It's no secret that it's a pricey pain to host the Olympic Games, running billions of dollars above the estimated budget. As the International Olympic Committee receives fewer bids with each problematic Games, the future of the tradition is looking unsure.”
That far-fetched idea of permanent Olympic sites for the Games suddenly doesn’t look quite as far-fetched.