Calgary City Council voted Monday to keep a potential Olympic bid alive as the city prepares for a fall plebiscite on the issue.
Two council votes kept alive the city’s bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, which bid organizers have estimated will cost $4.6-billion and run a deficit, while forming a committee to give councillors a direct role overseeing the process.
The city plans to hold a plebiscite sometime between October and January to gauge public support for the Games.
Had Monday’s votes failed, Calgary’s pursuit would have ended. Instead, many on council argued more transparency and public acceptance was needed before a final vote can be held.
“It would be a vast waste of taxpayer money [to stop now],” councillor Evan Woolley said of nixing the Olympics before all the information was gathered. Previous reports have indicated a plebiscite will cost $1.96-million and require several months to organize.
City administration said the next key date for a potential Calgary bid is in September when the International Olympic Committee determines the shortlist of potential hosts for the 2026 Games. Calgary would have to present its bid book to the IOC by January, 2019. Between now and then, more fully-costed financial numbers will give council a clearer picture of what hosting the Olympics will cost.
The one absolute in this story, now in its second year, has been how emotional Calgarians are about staging another Olympics 38 years after it first hosted the Games.
Ward Sutherland told his fellow councillors Monday that he had received death threats “from all sides.” He added, “It’s really easy to say no, but to kill [the bid] right now, I think it’s not really a good business decision.”
Last Friday, a serious of events turned up the heat on council. Several Olympic athletes, including retired gold medal-winning Olympians Catriona Le May Doan and Mark Tewksbury, outlined how hosting the 2026 Games was a necessary endeavour. For one thing, it would upgrade the facilities built for 1988 – and that, in turn, would benefit the next generation of Canadian athletes in their pursuit of Olympic glory.
“I’m a product of the ’88 Games, as is pretty much every single Canadian that is on the Olympic team now,” said Kaillie Humphries, a three-time Olympic medallist in women’s bobsleigh.
Following the athletes’ show of support, the Canadian Olympic Committee issued a statement from president Tricia Smith and CEO Chris Overholt saying Calgary has an opportunity “to shape a vision for Calgary, Alberta and Canada for generations.” What city council had to do was give Calgarians the chance to vote on a 2026 bid.
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce then issued a statement that said the Olympics “have the potential to be a catalyzing transformational project.” It called for council to glean all the information it could, and that included asking Calgarians for their opinion in a plebiscite.
Both the provincial and federal governments are willing to fund Calgary’s bid with a combined $20.5-million providing a plebiscite approves it. The city would add another $9.5-million.
Sport Calgary issued a statement applauding council’s decision to carry on with work on the Olympic bid.
“Sport Calgary is confident the exploration process could lead to a winning bid, broadly supported by an informed and engaged public,” said Sport Canada CEO Murray Sigler. “Today’s decision ensures Calgarians will have the opportunity to receive all the facts before making a critically important decision for our city.”