Last-minute deal aims to salvage Canada’s Winter Olympics bid

Published November 1, 2018, 9:38 AM

by AJ Siytangco


By Agence France-Presse

Ottawa and the province of Alberta have struck a last-minute funding deal to salvage Canada’s 2026 Winter Olympics bid ahead of a crucial vote Wednesday on canceling the process.

Calgary last hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988 and so can save on facilities, but new construction will still be needed (AFP/File / JONATHAN UTZ / MANILA BULLETIN)
Calgary last hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988 and so can save on facilities, but new construction will still be needed (AFP/File / JONATHAN UTZ / MANILA BULLETIN)

Calgary city councilors were holding lengthy and sometimes heated discussions ahead of a vote on a recommendation from the Olympic committee to end their pursuit of hosting duties over a lack of cash from the central and provincial governments.

Overnight Tuesday a deal between federal and provincial officials resulted in a proposal to fund most of the public costs, and reduce Calgary’s share of the burden.

The agreement — which would see the original Can$3 billion (US$2.3 billion) public portion of the Games budget reduced by 10 percent and, along with it, each party’s share of the costs — has been validated by federal Sports Minister Kirsty Duncan and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

But Evan Woolley, chairman of the Olympic bid committee, held out little hope of the Calgary council voting to move ahead.

Woolley echoed several fellow councilors in saying the funding deal had been struck too late to allow Calgarians to make an “educated decision,” while countering accusations of being spoilers.

If Calgary city council votes to keep its bid alive, the next hurdle would be a referendum on November 13.

“We support the Calgary Olympic bid. Calgary is a world-class city. It would be great to host the Olympics in Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Ottawa.

Hundreds of supporters of Canada’s bid, including former Olympians — most wearing Canada’s red and white colors — flooded into the Calgary city council chamber.

Outside, they waved placards that read “Go Olympics” and “We’re at the finish line,” at times breaking into chants of the national anthem.

Scared off

The host city of the 2026 Winter Olympics will be announced in June next year in Lausanne, Switzerland. A Calgary withdrawal would leave only Milan and Stockholm in the running.

The International Olympic Committee is facing a scarcity of applications for the Winter Games, with many scared off by the bill for Sochi 2014.

Several cities that initially expressed interest in hosting the 2026 edition pulled out after tepid support from their local populations.

As the last Canadian city to host the Winter Olympics in 2010, Vancouver lost tens of millions of dollars even though the US$7 billion cost was relatively modest when compared to Sochi’s US$50 billion.

Calgary, which previously organized the 1988 Winter Games, can save on facilities but new construction will still be needed.

Financing talks came to a head on Friday, when Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi threatened to end the city’s bid if the federal government didn’t provide more money.

“If we cannot come to a mutually agreeable conclusion by Monday, I deeply regret that I will have no choice but to request that Calgary City Council cancel the plebiscite and thus terminate the bid, an event none of us want,” he told the Calgary Herald.

Ottawa had initially held fast on its offer, saying it was in line with its share of the costs to host other major sporting events — notably the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.

Under the new terms, it has agreed to pick up half of the cost, while Calgary and the province are expected to split the remainder. Significant savings were also found in revised security estimates for the Games, reducing the overall costs.