Calgary joins list of cities against hosting the Olympics

Graham Cox / November 14, 2018

Calgary’s skyline including the Scotiabank Saddledome – one of the stadium’s that was proposed to be refurbished for the games.
(Todd Korol / The Globe And Mail)

The citizens of Calgary have spoken.

After the bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic games squeaked through several City Council votes, its fate landed in the hands of Calgarians by means of a plebiscite, where a clear message was sent. A decisive 56.4 per cent voted against hosting the Games. The plebiscite is non-binding however, it is pretty much the nail in the coffin that will bring Calgary’s bid to an end.

Since the vote, there have been mixed emotions from an array of Calgarians, including several disappointed former Olympians.

“What is the plan? If 56 per cent of Calgarians feel this wasn’t good for the city, then what is a good thing for this city? Because the reality is when you say no to something you stay in the same place” said former Olympic champion Kyle Shewfelt.

Despite many echoing Shewfelt’s feelings on a municipal level, the Calgarian vote against the Games has implications on a bigger scale.

Calgary becomes the latest addition to a long, growing list of cities who have rejected bids to host the Games in recent years. Hosting the Olympics, which some considered to be a celebrated opportunity, maybe now seen as becoming more and more of a burden.

The biggest critique from those in opposition is in regards to costs and the risk of financial overruns. Rob Livingstone, Producer at GamesBids.com, said that it isn’t that people don’t like the Games, but there is a fear of running up a huge tax bill that will be paid for by the population of host cities. Livingstone also emphasized that tools like social media can spread information that isn’t always accurate.

On social media, there is no adjudicator and nobody determining what is true or isn’t true, so a lot of facts end up being dated or incorrect or just exaggerations…and that ability just never really existed before this era.

Calgary Olympic Park built for the 1988 Winter Olympics
(Shutterstock)

On top of costs, Livingstone said there is a growing distrust from voters towards the International Olympic Committee, who many feel is a corrupt organization that is a major cause of cost overruns. He also feels that this trend will continue until the IOC can prove otherwise, but that is easier said than done.

What really needs to happen is that the IOC has to put on a Games where this doesn’t happen, so there is a credible example for them to point to and right now there just isn’t. You can’t get there that quick, either, because it takes 7 years to organize a games, so the IOC is sort of caught in this time warp where they just have to wait.

Over the years, it has become increasingly easier for cities to point to examples of over-budget Olympics as reasons to avoid hosting. Bill Cooper, Chief Operating Partner of TTG Canada and Director of Commercial Rights for Vancouver 2010, said there is a tendency to look at failures and feel anxiety, but in the case of Calgary failures from recent games don’t necessarily apply.

A Games does not have to be a direct replica of what the last nation did. You can localize it to your core strengths and you can build a bid and a promise that is authentic to who you are as a community and not who the last person was.

The examples Cooper is referring to are games like Sochi or Rio that went way over-budget, with little thought put into scope or legacy. Calgary, on the other hand, already has a large portion of the infrastructure in place due to hosting in 1988 and wouldn’t be starting from scratch.

No matter what side of the coin you fall on, the arguments presented by those in opposition to the 2026 Winter Olympics were enough to sway the Calgarians during their plebiscite and just add more fodder to the growing trend that the games are becoming unwanted.