OLYMPICS PLAN GOES BACK TO THE 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.
Many previous Winter and Summer Games had become dominated by countries blowing their brains out to impress the world.
Calgary, which hosted in 1988, would be different. We wouldn’t need to reinvent the Olympic wheel.
Most of our legacy facilities still in use could be enlisted at great savings in the first three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) Games.
CEO Mary Moran and her Calgary 2026 bid corporation have delivered on that premise.
In what she says is one of most comprehensive pre-bid plans ever produced, the 2026 Winter Games can be held for $5.2 billion (in 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 the previous three Winter Games (Sochi, $50 billion; Pyeongchang, $13 billion; and Vancouver, $7 billion), and no doubt cheaper than the next event in Beijing.
The Calgary proposal, which will now need approval in a Nov. 13 plebiscite, uses all the sports facilities from 1988, except the Canada Olympic Park ski jumps. The Whistler, B.C., ski jump venue will be reused instead.
Scotiabank Saddledome, McMahon Stadium, Olympic Oval, Canmore Nordic Centre, Nakiska Ski Resort and WinSport’s sliding and ski centre will be upgraded and renovated at a projected cost of $503 million.
So far there’s no venue for curling, but it has been suggested that Edmonton could host that.
The only new sports venues proposed are a field house, a perennial “nice to have” on Calgary’s capital budget list, and a 6,000-seat arena.
Those hoping for greater gifts, such as a new NHL-sized arena and a CTrain route to the airport, will be disappointed.
But if the city and the Flames’ owners reach an agreement on an NHL rink, the organizers would rejig venues and incorporate the new barn into the Games.
Moran and company have eschewed those expectations to satisfy the municipal, Alberta and federal purse string holders.
In this political climate, 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 “citius, altius, fortius.”
To make it even more palatable, the plan boasts of spending $600 million to create 2,800 units in an athletes’ village that would be turned into long-term housing.
Moran also notes that Calgary Games II would pump $2 billion into Alberta’s gross domestic product, pay $200 million in tax revenues and produce 2,200 temporary jobs. Keep in mind virtually every Olympics, including the ’88 Games, has underestimated costs and overestimated benefits.
Although Mayor Naheed Nenshi has seen enough to proceed, there are still some mysteries in the bid: We know Ottawa will contribute up to 50 per cent, but we don’t yet have a costsharing deal with the Alberta government and possibly B.C. government; therefore, we don’t know what the projected impact will be on our municipal tax bills.
However, with all this talk about money, let’s not forget that the primary purpose of holding the Olympics, as those who were here in 1988 know, is about throwing a world party that thrills and inspires belief in what humans are capable of achieving as hosts and athletes.