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While three levels of Canadian government were at each other’s throats over the proposed 2026 Calgary Winter Games last week, the International Olympic Committee popped over for a little pep talk.

Instead of saying anything, the IOC made a great show of reaching into its pants pockets and pulled out the lining.

The IOC has conceptually committed $1.2-billion in cash and services to the Calgary bid’s original $5.23-billion total budget. That number is a line in the red sand.

“As a non-profit, we don’t have the financial reserves that allow us to commit outside of what we can today,” IOC executive director Christophe Dubi told reporters.

In 2016, the IOC made US$3.6-billion, most of which was spread around to various national sports organizing bodies. A few years ago, it signed a nearly US$8-billion broadcast deal with NBC to televise a slew of Games that would include Calgary. And that’s just in the United States.

Bottom line – there is an awful lot of ducats moving through the IOC’s accounts.

It is a non-profit in the sense it doesn’t pay dividends. It is not a non-profit in the sense that people do this because it’s God’s work.

Of its priorities, the main one is not putting on the Olympics. It does practically nothing in that regard.

The IOC builds nothing. It maintains nothing. It pulls into town a few months ahead of an Olympic Games and expects that locals have already erected the big tent. It doesn’t even bring the elephants. All it does is staff the ticket booth.

Instead, the IOC’s core task is stabilizing its own power base, like some small-town alderman handing out twenties as he walks to the office.

That was a viable approach when holding a Games was still a privilege and a prize. That was the gauzy post-Los Angeles ‘84 period when everyone thought it went like this – you stage a Games; the world falls in love with you; tourists start coming so thick you need to put crash barriers up at the ports; and foreign investors bury you under a pile of money because they’re so taken with the way your luge track looks at sunset.

It hasn’t played out that way for recent host countries. These days, putting on an Olympics has become a responsibility and a grind and precious few people are willing to take it on. Increasingly, those who try are shouted down by their own citizenry.

An idea has taken hold in the world’s imagination – that the Olympics is the world’s most expensive and debauched night out. It’s a lot of fun around 2 a.m., but the hangover will cripple you for years.

So blessings on Calgary. At least thus far, Calgarians are the ones volunteering to stay in the kitchen washing dishes while everyone else whoops it up in the rumpus room.

You’d think there would be some acknowledgement of that sacrifice from the people who earn every one of their nickels off the back of this thing. They should be begging Albertans to accept more help.

Instead, we get lines like this:

“Here, you have it all,” Dubi said to Calgary. “There aren’t going to be any cost overruns here I can tell you.”

This might mean something if Dubi’s soft words equalled a surety, or if a 2016 Oxford University study had not shown that every single Olympics up to that point in history had gone over its budget, often ludicrously so.

This isn’t an argument against holding the event. The Olympics are great. Everybody should have a chance to enjoy one up close, even if that means via TV and in the general proximity. Vancouver taught us that.

With that in mind, Calgary has shown the wisdom of Solomon in its negotiating strategy – neither forgetting the good times of ’88 (and ’10) nor giving in to hysterical nostalgia.

The case has been laid out, both the cheerleading and the critiques given an airing, the politicians have stepped out of the way and now those who pay the most direct cost of any ill management get to decide. Since I believe people are happier being for things rather than against them, I’m guessing it goes one way.

But if the Nov. 13 plebiscite rejects the Games, Calgary will be fine. The city will move on.

But I’m not so sure about how this spins out for the IOC. I’m more sure it doesn’t see it coming. That’s the problem when you build a business that was once as monolithic on the sports landscape as the Titanic. You forget about icebergs.

As much as a Lillehammer or an Innsbruck, Calgary is the perfect site for a Winter Olympics. It has the geography, the topography, the sports history, the funds and, crucially, the charitable desire to do more than its fair share on this score.

It has the infrastructure (important because no social democracy is ever again volunteering to build from scratch something as costly and useless as a ski jump). It has the know-how. And it understands from relatively recent experience what to expect.

Leaning hard on its existing advantages, organizers have put together a Saks Games on a Walmart budget. This is as close as an Olympic bid can get to airtight. It’s practically a vacuum.

What does it say if it fails?

It says that the IOC needs to drastically change its tactics. It says it might already be too late to do so. It says that no one in the future is going to treat the announcement of an Olympic bid as an applause line. Because the ‘No’ side will be able to say, “Canada didn’t want this thing. CANADA.”

And what is the IOC’s rebuttal to that? ‘We can guarantee this will work*!’

(*Does not constitute a guarantee under law.)

If the IOC wants to continue in the Olympics-managing business, it might want to start a bold new venture into the Olympics-staging business. That would start with taking some more of its walking-around money and giving it to the people offering to do the job for it.

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