Look­ing back shows just how much of a farce to­day’s push for the Games has be­come,

Calgary Herald - - EDITORIAL - writes Cros­bie Cot­ton. Cros­bie Cot­ton, for­mer ed­i­torin-chief of the Cal­gary Her­ald, is di­rec­tor at Na­tional Parks Ski Areas As­so­ci­a­tion.

As a jour­nal­ist for 15 years, I trav­elled the world cov­er­ing the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee, the in­ter­na­tional sports fed­er­a­tions, the win­ning Cal­gary bid, and the dis­ci­plined, as well as the fis­cally pru­dent, or­ga­niz­ing of the 1988 Win­ter Olympics, which would be­come the best ever at that time.

It could be ar­gued I knew more about the IOC than the or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee, and I had a wealth of knowl­edge about the mis­takes that could be made and the lega­cies that could be cre­ated hav­ing re­turned to vir­tu­ally ev­ery past Games host city to con­duct in-depth re­search in what went right, and what was left be­hind. Some tru­isms I coined:

The Olympics are an ego look­ing for a place to in­flate; The Olympics are a king­dom that goes look­ing for a coun­try to pay the bills ev­ery four years.

The 1988 Games bid was the po­lar op­po­site of what is hap­pen­ing in Cal­gary to­day. The bid was led en­tirely by en­tre­pre­neur busi­ness lead­ers with a vi­sion. It was born with un­matched pas­sion launched with a $5,000 boost from the Cal­gary Booster Club, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that to this day sup­ports the best ath­letes this city pro­duces ev­ery year.

Hell-bent on a mis­sion whose only goal was to suc­ceed, they spent pen­nies like man­hole cov­ers and raised the funds re­quired to bid from within an en­gaged pop­u­lace and ex­cited cor­po­rate com­mu­nity. They con­vinced cor­po­ra­tions to vol­un­teer their ex­perts and pro­fes­sional ser­vices in­stead of pay­ing ev­ery­one tax dol­lars. For the 1988 Games, city hall cov­ered a mi­nus­cule part of the bid cost.

They sold bid pins door to door at $5 each. And I will never for­get Anne Mur­ray sing­ing at a fundrais­ing gala at the sold-out con­ven­tion cen­tre. The cost — $1,000 a plate, a mind-bog­gling ticket price more than 30 years ago, but cor­po­rate Cal­gary reached into their own pock­ets in­stead of those of tax­pay­ers. Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau, the other one, also showed up.

Most im­por­tantly, they kept the city politi­cians to­tally at bay, al­low­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion on the board but noth­ing else. It was as if all coun­cil­lors served game mis­con­ducts through the bid process. In do­ing so, they saved city tax­pay­ers hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars be­cause both the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments as­sumed full re­spon­si­bil­ity for ac­tu­ally build­ing all ma­jor venues, in­clud­ing cov­er­ing their cost over­runs if any oc­curred.

The only main Games project par­tially cov­ered by city tax­pay­ers was one-third the cost of build­ing the Olympic Sad­dle­dome, a com­mit­ment pri­mar­ily made up by the city do­nat­ing the land upon which the build­ing sits. The Games them­selves cost Cal­gar­i­ans vir­tu­ally no cash.

Sidelin­ing the mayor and coun­cil and let­ting adroit busi­ness acu­men take the lead was a bril­liant ma­noeu­vre that pro­tected tax­pay­ers while tak­ing lo­cal po­lit­i­cal grand­stand­ing out of the Games.

Lo­cal politi­cians were un­heard of dur­ing the bid stage, es­pe­cially coun­cil­lors. Mayor Ralph Klein had a run­ning pub­lic bat­tle with the or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee, com­plain­ing reg­u­larly that or­ga­niz­ers were kow­tow­ing to the IOC while not do­ing enough to look af­ter the aver­age Cal­gar­ian. In most cases, he was dead on — be­cause it is easy to for­get who is pay­ing the bills.

This time around, lo­cal po­lit­i­cal games that ri­val a Shake­spearean com­edy have been played out for the en­tire world to hear and see. It has been true farce and many of the lead­ers of the 1988 bid must be turn­ing in their graves as they have watched ego af­ter ego en­joy Olympic in­fla­tion. There is lit­tle room left.

Peo­ple who know lit­tle pre­tend to be ex­perts. We have made the in­ter­nal pol­i­tics of the IOC look like child’s play. How do you ex­pect to ne­go­ti­ate from a po­si­tion of strength when we have con­stantly led with our chin?

An­other ma­jor change was in 1988 lo­cal or­ga­niz­ers banked all the world’s in­ter­na­tional broad­cast rights fees and a large por­tion of the in­ter­na­tional spon­sor­ship rights. No longer. The IOC now takes that money for-its-elf—even-i fit comes in more than ex­pected — and then tells bid­ders they will help cover the costs of the lo­cal or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee with a grant. In per­cent­age terms, the amount banked by lo­cal or­ga­niz­ers is much less than for the 1988 Games.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of the Olympics, and es­pe­cially the ath­letes, who re­main the least re­garded mem­bers of the so-called Olympics Fam­ily. I watched how the Olympics, from the ac­tual bid to the Games them­selves, changed our city.

We shone on the world stage, and we did it with­out the in­ter­fer­ence of city hall and its bat­tal­ion of bu­reau­crats.

I used to give a speech that Cal­gary was a medium-sized city with small-town val­ues and truly world-cal­i­bre dreams. No one knew how good we could be un­til some­one asked us to be great. Bid chair­man Frank King, and his band of tough, hard­nosed vi­sion­ar­ies, united Cal­gar­i­ans be­hind a vi­sion for great­ness. To­gether they turned vi­sion into re­al­ity, and for that we should all be thank­ful. The legacy of ath­letes train­ing here en­hances our city.

I haven’t quite fig­ured out the vi­sion for the 2026 Olympics: no LRT to the air­port, a mi­nus­cule arena for fig­ure skat­ing (the world’s most pop­u­lar Win­ter Games sport) and no new mod­ern arena. At the mo­ment, it is all about the money, even though we want to spend bil­lions. To me, that is sad.

This frag­mented coun­cil has no idea what would be great for this city. His­tory shows the tourism ben­e­fits of host­ing the Games is al­ways ex­ag­ger­ated. At least Van­cou­ver in 2010 got a sparkling new con­ven­tion cen­tre, the No. 1 driver of in­creased tourism spend­ing in any city. Not in the Cal­gary play­book. Too vi­sion­ary.

The sooner we bench lo­cal politi­cians, the bet­ter chance we will have to reach great­ness again. Let them fo­cus on what ser­vices tax­pay­ers’ need, and let the pros bid for and or­ga­nize the Olympics.

Then a vi­sion rather than an ego will be­gin to emerge.

Sidelin­ing the mayor and coun­cil and let­ting adroit busi­ness acu­men take the lead was a bril­liant ma­noeu­vre that pro­tected tax­pay­ers while tak­ing lo­cal po­lit­i­cal grand­stand­ing out of the Games.


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