There has been much discussion in and out of Council on whether Calgary should bid on the 2026 Olympics. It is a topic brought up by many Calgarians when I visit their homes. In 2016, Council approved the formation of a committee to research the viability of an Olympic bid. The results of this research were recently reviewed by City Administration and a report was presented to Council. In the last council session before summer break, Council decided they supported moving forward to gather more information on the viability of an Olympic bid, with an update due to come back in September.
I feel it is important that we have as much information about potentially hosting the 2026 Olympics before a final decision is made. I currently have a number of concerns and feel there is significant risk with hosting the Olympic Games. Unless these risks can be mitigated with some certainty, I would not support bidding on Olympics 2026.
Cost is obviously the major factor. We need to clearly understand the price tag associated with hosting the Olympics and answer questions like:
- What will it cost to the City?
- How much debt will Calgary have to carry to move forward with the games and how much of that debt will be covered by Provincial or Federal funding.
- When would that funding happen?
- What are the associated costs to update our current facilities?
- What are the costs of new facilities?
I was disappointed more details about the facilities’ life-cycle needs and plans were not available yet. It is important to understand what our plan is for our existing facilities and the associated costs of maintaining them regardless of whether we host the Olympics. If we choose to re-purpose these facilities so they can continue to be used into the future, what is the cost and what is the business case? Does hosting the Olympics make these improvements more viable? Do we get more return on our investment into these facilities? Does the Olympics require more upgrades to existing buildings that we would not normally do, if so, is there a business case to make the upgrades? If we invest more money into our facilities do we see long term benefits over the next 10, 20 or 30 years? These are all critical considerations we need clear and transparent answers to.
The bottom line: if we choose to bid on and potentially host another Olympics, the investment must lead to public benefit and economic benefit over the short and long term.
As it stands today, there is not enough evidence to show that the financial investment required to host the Olympics will lead to enough public benefit. I also have concerns about the historic results of recent Olympics that show significant cost over-runs and financial losses. It has been suggested that Calgary would be doing things differently, based on the fact we have legacy infrastructure. However despite this, as mentioned before, there are currently too many unknowns.
There is also concern about how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has functioned. The IOC has indicated they are changing their practices but currently we don’t have evidence as they are only now undertaking the changes. Therefore, if Calgary bids and is successful, we would be one of the early adopters – that comes with risk. We also have yet to see what a host city contract would look like from the IOC – Without this, it it is unclear what Calgary’s financial obligations would be.
I feel that the IOC needs Calgary more than Calgary needs the Olympics. The IOC needs to show the world a new Games model that works. They need to demonstrate that a great location like Calgary can host a successful Olympics. Our success would lead to a more sustainable, profitable example that the IOC could use to attract other cities into hosting future Olympics. Therefore, we are uniquely positioned to be able to get the best possible contract with the IOC. However, if there continues to be so many unknowns and risks mitigated in a satisfactory way, I don’t believe we should host the Olympics.
I am supportive of Council choosing to continue to gather information. It is important that we have as many facts as possible to make the most reasoned decision – this is a large dollar deal that would have a positive impact on the city or a negative one. If these facts don’t support hosting the 2026 Olympics, then Calgary should walk away. This evaluation work is not a waste, as it will give us a very detailed understanding of the state of our existing facilities, and our future plans for them (with or without the Olympics). If we choose to not bid on 2026, we will also have this information on hand should a future Olympic bid (such as 2030) makes sense to discuss.