Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the naysayers have been winning the debate over whether Calgary should hold the Winter Olympics in 2026, but there’s still time to change the narrative before a non-binding vote on the bid next Tuesday.
Nenshi’s remarks capped off a pro-bid rally which featured a parade of Olympians and a deluge of 1988 nostalgia from Calgary’s first turn at playing host.
“We are, my friends, in the last week of an election campaign. It’s an election campaign that today we’re going to lose,” Nenshi told the crowd in a downtown convention centre Monday, a Team Canada scarf draped over his shoulders.
“But we have the power to turn that around. And that power is within every one of our hands,”
Last week, the bid appeared on the brink of death as the city, the province of Alberta and the federal government wrangled over cost sharing. Nenshi called the week the “grossest” of his political career, but said it led to a great deal.
“What we have is undeniably an outstanding bid and an outstanding deal for Calgary and we’ve got to tell our friends and our neighbours.”
He urged bid supporters to speak up online and in coffee shops and to text everyone they know before the plebiscite.
“For better or worse, we’ve allowed the naysayers to control the narrative. If you look on social media, you probably think 100 per cent of Calgary is opposed to the Olympics. If you listen to the loudest voices, whether they’re politicians or people in line at the Tim Hortons, you’d think everybody hates the Olympics,” Nenshi said.
“But that’s not true.”
No Calgary Olympics, a three-member grassroots group with no advertising money, has been trying to push its anti-bid message without the same Olympian star power.
The group’s concerns include the cost, the transparency and ethics of the International Olympic Committee and what it sees as shortcomings in the bid process.
Opposing an Olympic bid isn’t a slight against Calgary, spokeswoman Erin Waite said.
“We’re not doubters about Calgary’s initiative or capacity or enthusiasm for taking on big projects,” she said. “It’s a matter of if it’s the right project now and what won’t we be able to do because we’re choosing the Olympics.”
The bid has an estimated price tag of $5.1-billion. The province has said it would kick in $700-million of that and Ottawa would cover $1.4-billion. The city was asked to contribute $390-million, which includes $20-million for a $200-million insurance policy against cost overruns.
The remainder would be expected to come from ticket sales and other revenues.
Monday’s rally featured British ski-jumper Michael Edwards – better known as Eddie the Eagle – and 1988 mascots Hidy and Howdy. Some came to the rally wearing vintage Olympic swag.
“I think you did such a great job in 1988 and there was such a great buzz and there’s continued to be that buzz for the last 30 years,” Edwards said.
Olympians, including gold-medal sprinter Donovan Bailey and multi-medal-winning hockey player Cassie Campbell-Pascall, spoke of the importance of refurbishing the city’s sports facilities.
University of Alberta professor Stacy Lorenz, who studies the sociology and history of sports, said it’s not surprising bid boosters are tugging at heartstrings by invoking past Olympic glory.
“They are going to have to make an argument for civic pride and national identity, because if you look hard at the economics of it, that is not going to convince people to support the bid.”