If the 2026 Winter Olympics were to be awarded to Calgary, it would look like no other Games Canada has held before.
The notion of having Olympic events held well beyond the borders of Calgary – in Whistler, B.C., and Edmonton – has produced preliminary talks and growing acceptance. And while both cities say they’ve yet to receive a formal proposal, the mayors of both say there have been informal discussions. The Calgary 2026 bid corporation has acknowledged it wants to finalize its venue plans by the third weekend in August.
That has drawn the approval of the International Olympic Committee’s executive director.
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“You have a good problem on your hands which is a handful of incredible venues across Canada,” said Christophe Dubi, who was in Calgary this week to meet with local businessmen, politicians and bid organizers. “We want to make sure we are flexible and they have to find the master plan that ultimately is the best for the interest of Calgarians.”
Calgary has been researching having the men’s and women’s ski jumping and nordic combined in Whistler. It’s possible, too, that curling or a specific number of men’s and/or women’s hockey games will be played at Edmonton’s 18,500-seat Rogers Place.
The rationale for such moves has to do with saving money by not having to rebuild a ski-jumping facility, making money by drawing more fans into Edmonton’s new downtown arena and by attracting as much money as it can from the provincial and federal government by broadening the 2026 Games in a way Montreal in 1976, Calgary in 1988 and Vancouver in 2010 never did.
“I think it took Calgary a little bit of time to actually get things moving,” said Whistler mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who has spoken with Terry Wright, a member of the Vancouver Organizing Committee who is consulting for the City of Calgary. “Now they are moving and they’re going to be moving fairly quickly because they’re going to be faced with creating a bid book.”
The 120-page book is due in January, 2019. A draft of the book’s content must be ready on Aug. 17. The IOC has previously approved Olympic bids with far-flung locations for events. At the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, the equestrian competition was held in Hong Kong while men’s and women’s soccer was played in Shanghai and three other cities outside of Beijing.
Calgary’s pitch for 2026 has been highlighted by the fact so many of its facilities from 1988, from the speed-skating oval to the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton track, are in fine working order. Ski jumping has been the biggest trouble spot among the leftover facilities. The moth-balled big jump at Canada Olympic Park hasn’t been used in competition for decades. Constructing a replacement hill in Canmore, the site for cross-country skiing and biathlon, has been estimated at $100-million.
By comparison, the Whistler jumps would require a $5-million upgrade, along with $30-million for what has been described as “operational and ancillary costs.” Spending $35-million is easier on the pocket book than $100-million. It’s a key consideration since an early estimate had the cost of the Olympics at $4.6-billion. That number is expected to go up when the next figures are calculated.
As for Edmonton, speculation that the Alberta capital will be involved in some manner has caught the attention of its mayor.
“We’re trying to get that same information because we hear all kinds of things,” Don Iveson said of an Olympic partnership with Calgary. “So when we hear some more – actually, formally – we’ll be in a position to chat.”
Calgary must hold a non-binding plebiscite if it hopes to secure further funding from the provincial government, although a date has not been set. Municipal politicians mused about it being in November and costing $2-million. The city would have to train more than 3,000 people to conduct the plebiscite, as well as secure voting venues, such as churches and schools, to make it happen. The wording of the question has not been announced.
Further, Calgary 2026 has not yet hired a chief executive.
The IOC will announce which city will hold the 2026 Olympics in September, 2019.