After months of turmoil at the Canadian Olympic Committee that have seen its former president resign amid sexual harassment allegations, the departure of its chef de mission for the Rio Olympics and an overhaul of its board of governors, the COC has asked John Furlong to help capture future glory with a successful bid.
Mr. Furlong, who helped to bring the 2010 Winter Olympics to Vancouver, has been asked to ensure the country's next Olympic bid is so compelling that the International Olympic Committee will have no choice but to award the Games to a Canadian city. He has been appointed the chair of a new committee to work with Canadian cities wanting to hold a Summer or Winter Olympic Games.
"Our job is to help the bidding cities get to a higher place, so they can make their presentation to the COC some time next year," Mr. Furlong said in an interview Thursday. If Canada submits a solid bid, "we have a strong chance at being selected."
News of his appointment by COC president Tricia Smith comes as Calgary mulls bidding for another Games. The city, which hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, has made a presentation for the 2026 Winter Olympic/Paralympic Games through its Sport Tourism Authority. The proposal was approved by city council late Monday.
Calgary's next step is to earn the backing of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Others working with Mr. Furlong on the new committee are: Michael Chambers, a former COC president and chef de mission for the 1996 Atlantic Olympics; Martin Boileau, the head of Sport Canada; Katie Green, the former brand marker and communications director for VANOC; and Chris Overholt, the COC's CEO.
The committee will not share information if there is more than one bid for the same Games. That could happen since seven cities "have met a certain site criteria," meaning they would get special treatment for an Olympic bid, given what they offer in population, infrastructure and services. Those cities are Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, Mr. Furlong said.
Tying two cities into one Olympics is an uncharted move for the Olympics. It was a topic of discussion at an IOC conference last December, when it was suggested allowing two cities to partner would reduce Olympic construction and operational costs. The obvious partners in Canada would be Calgary and Edmonton, and Quebec City and Montreal.
"I can tell you the IOC would be happy to have a Games that were held on existing venues," Mr. Chambers said. "That would be in keeping with what the IOC wants. ... Our little committee can be a sounding board for cities that want the Olympics and don't know where to go to get advice."
The conference also discussed Sochi's Olympic record of spending an eye-popping $52-billion on the Games, while stirring controversy over the ban against members of the LGBT community – a move that backfired in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He had to renege on his comments and go with the Olympics' everyone-is-welcome theme.
Mr. Furlong said the IOC has become acutely aware of its problem: The grim reality is that the Olympics, once a stage for an athlete's passion, something to be admired, are now being looked at as an old house about to cave in on itself.
"The Games were becoming too expensive; countries were becoming fearful of bidding; a number of cities dropped out [of contention]. Countries like Norway, which has considerable skills at this. Sweden, Germany, they all walked away," Mr. Furlong explained.
"Look at Vancouver: The total cost for Olympic infrastructure and operations of the Winter Olympics was $2.5-billion. Sochi was $52-billion. And I think what the IOC was saying is we have to find ways to make the Games more sustainable, to look at such things as temporary facilities."
The deadline is June 30 for a Canadian city to make a bid to the COC on hosting the Olympics any time after 2020, and outline just how much that is going to cost.
It's been a difficult year for the COC. Last fall, former president Marcel Aubut resigned, prompting the committee to implement new policies and procedures on ethics, discrimination, harassment and whistle-blowing. Mandatory training in harassment and bullying issues was instituted for board members and for Olympic mission teams.
But this spring, Jean Luc Brassard, an Olympic moguls champion in Vancouver, resigned as chef de mission for the Rio Olympics in August, saying his complaints of slow action on COC reform had placed him in conflict with other committee members. Curt Harnett, an Olympic cycling medalist, replaced Mr. Brassard.
Mr. Furlong has been through his own years-long ordeal after being accused of assaulting aboriginal students at a day school where he was a teacher in 1969 and 1970. Civil cases against him collapsed and a judge was highly critical of the journalist who originally broke the story.