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Alberta Advisory group warns Calgary’s 2026 Olympic bid in peril if Canada gets World Cup

A slice of Calgary’s underdeveloped inner city could morph into a neighbourhood for thousands of people should the city get the 2026 Olympic Winter Games.

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Calgary may not be able to secure the $1.2-billion from the federal government it would need to host the 2026 Winter Olympics if Canada is awarded a slice of another expensive event – the 2026 FIFA World Cup, according to the group advising the city whether to bid on the Games.

Further, Calgary's Olympic bid exploration committee said other sources of revenue in its budget could thin should the World Cup come to Canada, according to an unredacted copy of the group's feasibility study for the Winter Games obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The committee predicts it will cost $4.6-billion to host the Olympics and require $2.4-billion in taxpayer money. The study group's budget expects half of the $2.4-billion to come from Ottawa and the rest from other levels of government. The financial forecast shows the Games would run a deficit of about $425-million.

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READ MORE: Calgary capable of hosting Olympics, but further study needed: committee report

The figures have Calgary councillors on edge as they weigh the prospect of bidding for the Games, which are notorious for blowing through budgets. If the World Cup eats into the committee's current forecast, the financial viability of hosting the Games will be even more shaky.

Calgary's chief financial officer, Eric Sawyer, told councillors on Monday that hosting the Olympics could push the city close to – and potentially beyond – its legislated debt ceiling. Bureaucrats calculated a number of different scenarios, he said, but did not pinpoint which Olympic funding scenario substantially threatened the city's balance sheet.

"It definitely has the potential to put us close to or over the debt limits," Mr. Sawyer said. "But there's a lot of assumptions that need to be clarified and scrutinized."

The federal government has not yet committed any money to an Olympic bid. The committee expects domestic sponsors would support the Games to the tune of $820-million and ticket sales would bring in $320-million. "A joint North American (Canada/USA/Mexico) bid [for the 2026 World Cup] would likely be competitive and have strong prospects of success," the unredacted copy of the committee's Feasibility Study and Conceptual Master Hosting Plan said.

"Canada hosting a portion of the World Cup in the same year as the Winter Games may have an impact on both the level of government support available from Sport Canada and the ability to attract and compete for sponsorship, media and ticketing revenue."

Hosting the Olympics would also require financial support from the provincial government and those discussions are still preliminary. Alberta's next general election is scheduled for 2019, and the province is already strapped for cash. Austerity will be a key campaign issue, particularly as the province's two conservative parties on Saturday agreed to merge in an effort to unseat the New Democratic Party from government benches.

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The Olympic bid exploration committee was supposed to advise city council on Monday whether Calgary should bid for the Games, but put off that decision because the International Olympic Committee pushed back its own deadlines for potential host cities. The committee told council more work must be done – including negotiations with the IOC over financial support and hosting expectations – to ensure its budget is solid.

It will cost about $391-million to renovate Calgary's existing sporting venues and build new facilities in order to host the Games, according to the feasibility report. Proponents of the Games – and large swaths of the feasibility report – argue hosting the Olympics would leave Calgary and its surrounding mountain communities with useful sporting and housing infrastructure. However, the report demonstrates that is not always true.

The committee, for example, calculates it would cost $19-million to renovate the Stampede Corral – a 67-year-old facility slated for demolition – in order to host secondary hockey matches. But, the report notes, the Corral would still likely meet the wrecking ball after the athletes go home.

There is no precedent for a county to host both the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games in the same year; however, Calgary's study group does not believe that would affect its chances of being awarded the Winter Games. The committee also said Sport Canada, which is the conduit for federal cash, believes it is possible to host them both, although that statement came with a caveat.

"We have been able to confirm that hosting two events in the same year may be feasible depending on the funding request each event makes to the Government of Canada," the unredacted copy of the report said.

Paul Webster, a Calgary-based coach with Canada’s curling team explains how science and technology are being applied to sport to improve our prospects for gold Globe and Mail Update
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