Thrifty Olympic plan goes back to future
When hosting the 2026 Winter Games began to be floated in Calgary, the goal was to produce a low-budget version that would inject some fiscal sanity to the Olympic movement. With previous Winter and Summer Games, countries blew their brains out to impress the world.
Calgary, which hosted in 1988, would enlist most of its legacy facilities at great savings.
CEO Mary Moran and her Calgary 2026 bid corporation have delivered on that premise. Their pre-bid plan says the Games could be held for $5.2 billion (2018 dollars), at a cost of $3 billion to taxpayers. The rest of the revenue comes from the International Olympic Committee, tickets and sponsors.
That’s significantly cheaper than 2010 Vancouver ($7 billion), 2014 Sochi ($50 billion) and 2018 Pyeongchang ($13 billion).
The Calgary proposal, which goes to a Nov. 13 plebiscite, uses all the sports facilities from 1988, except the ski jumps. The Vancouver Games’ ski jump in Whistler, B.C., would be reused instead.
Scotiabank Saddledome, McMahon Stadium, Olympic Oval, Canmore Nordic Centre, Nakiska Ski Resort and WinSport’s sliding and ski centre would be upgraded and renovated at a projected cost of $503 million.
So far there’s no venue for curling, but it has been suggested Edmonton could host it. The only new venues would be a field house and a 6,000-seat arena. But if the city and the Calgary Flames’ owners reach an agreement on an NHL rink, the organizers would incorporate it into the Games.
Moran and company aimed to satisfy municipal, Alberta and federal purse string holders. There’s no way the two senior governments want to be seen signing blank cheques for a sporting event that has taken its share of knocks in recent years. And there’s little appetite in Calgary for raising municipal taxes.
The plan also boasts of $600 million to create 2,800 units in an athletes’ village that would be turned into long-term housing. And Moran notes the Games would pump $2 billion into Alberta’s gross domestic product, pay $200 million in taxes and produce 2,200 temporary jobs. Keep in mind virtually every Olympics has underestimated costs and overestimated benefits.
There are still some mysteries in the bid: We know Ottawa would contribute up to 50 per cent, but there’s no cost-sharing deals with the Alberta government and possibly B.C. government yet.
However, with all this talk about money, let’s not forget the primary purpose of holding the Olympics, is about throwing a world party that thrills and inspires.