KILLING 2026 GAMES BID WOULD SAY NO TO $1.2 BILLION
IOC contribution will vanish if city residents reject bid in Nov. 13 plebiscite
It’s hard to shake the image of the old, venal International Olympic Committee that flooded host cities with dignitaries who had to be poured out of their limousines.
But the Olympic movement is in trouble today. The new IOC, in belated response, is both more reputable and more reasonable.
The biggest contributor to a Calgary 2026 Games plan so far is not the province, with $700 million, or the city, said to be under $500 million.
It’s the IOC, which pledges US$925 million, or C$1.2 billion.
That’s roughly the amount the old IOC would hope to take from a community, not put in it.
The gracious officials who visited this week say they can’t go above US$925 million.
That’s understandable. Offering Calgary more would confer the same benefit on Stockholm and Cortina d’Ampezzo, the other approved candidate cities.
But why on earth would Calgarians even expect more than $1.2 billion from the IOC?
That’s money on top of the stated $3 billion in public funds needed for the Games.
The IOC contribution is a bonanza, a gusher that will be spent mostly in Calgary. It’s a notax lottery win.
This money actually allows the NDP government — which is not keen on the Games at all — to be frugal.
The federal contribution, yet to be announced, will likely be around $1.2 billion, about the same as the IOC.
The stated public expense of $3 billion must be pared down, because the three-government total could be only $2.5 billion.
It can be done. Calgary’s bid corporation, Calgary 2026, included almost $1 billion for “contingency” in the $3 billion estimate.
Now, it has to absolutely ensure that it won’t be spent.
There are many opportunities to cut costs. It’s also likely that Ottawa will find other routes to help through program spending on facilities, programs and infrastructure.
More than $100 million could vanish from the Olympic budget if Calgary Sports and Entertainment strikes a deal for a new rink and event centre.
That would obviate the need for a second, smaller rink for Olympic hockey.
The omens for a Flames deal are very good. The owners have a positive attitude toward new approaches from city hall.
I admit to a fantasy of Sean Monahan scoring the gold-medal goal in an arena to rival Edmonton’s marvellous Rogers Place.
On the funding basis alone, this picture will look good to people who accept that governments should sometimes spend money on big events that generate even more value in facilities, economic growth, international reputation and civic enthusiasm.
It looks even better when you can do it with the help of $1.2 billion from a sports outfit headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland.
But there is a hitch.
On Nov. 13, the polls open for a yes-no citywide plebiscite. It won’t match a pot rollout for crowds, but interest is high and the citizens are increasingly divided.
This is not a soft deadline. Provincial officials reconfirmed that Wednesday. No means no.
The province will wave goodbye if support for the Games bid is one vote below 50 per cent.
The $700 million will be off the table, with no hope of return. And the IOC money vanishes with it.
Demanding this referendum allowed the province to duck responsibility for a big cash give to one city in hard times — not a wildly popular idea in Edmonton, for instance.
Provincial support, if we can even use the word, is highly conditional. There will be no grief in Edmonton if the Olympic dream dies on Nov. 13.
Compare this to the iconic 2010 games in Vancouver, where the biggest booster of all was the provincial government under Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell.
Those wildly successful Games ended up belonging to all of Canada. So would Calgary’s.
Without provincial enthusiasm, as critics trumpet disaster, maybe we should reframe the plebiscite question:
Does Calgary really want to give $1.2 billion back to the International Olympic Committee?
From left, Hannah Burns, head of promotion, Olympic Games; IOC executive director Christophe Dubi; Alex Gough, two-time Olympic luge medallist; Mary Moran, Calgary 2026 CEO; and, Helen Upperton, Olympic bobsled silver medallist gather following a press conference on the Calgary 2026 Winter Olympics bid at Canada Olympic Park on Wednesday.