Majority of Calgary voters say ‘no thanks’ to 2026 Olympics

Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia


Calgary’s bid to profit from hosting 2026 Olympics grounded in naive optimism rather than hard facts
Calgarians vote ‘no’ to 2026 Olympic bid in non-binding plebiscite

The strong rejection delivered by Calgary voters on Tuesday night is not the first time that Canada has hoofed the International Olympic Committee squarely in the unmentionables.

After the financial disaster of the 1976 Games in Montreal, which resulted in debt that wasn’t paid off for more than three decades, countries became nervous about inviting the world’s biggest sporting spectacle to town.

The 1984 Summer Games ended up with a lone bidder: Los Angeles. (It, surprise, won.)
But after Calgary’s non-binding plebiscite went 56% against an Olympic bid for 2026, the IOC is careening toward what could be an even more embarrassing fate: a bid process that, at the end, has no actual bidders.

To the extent that there are few multinational organizations more worthy of a metaphorical nutpunch than the IOC, Calgarians should be proud.

If only they could have figured out a way to shame FIFA while they were at it.

Members of the “Yes” campaign react in Calgary on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, to the results of a plebiscite on whether the city should proceed with a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh


For now, though, the IOC has to scramble some serious damage control. It was just last month that the Swiss-based group of swells and worthies announced that there were three finalists for 2026: Calgary, Stockholm, and Milan-Cortina in Italy.

Calgary was always an odd fit in there, a city that had already hosted a Winter Games, and its bid had foundered mightily before it even made it to the voters: a majority of councillors opted to scrap Tuesday’s plebiscite altogether, but it limped along because a two-thirds majority was needed to deliver a killshot.

Stockholm’s government, meanwhile, announced last month that it would commit no public money to hosting the Olympics in 2026, which is something of a problem for an event that always — always — requires great buckets of public money, and the federal government in Italy has recently said that it has an Olympic budget in mind of precisely zero dollars.

“We won’t provide one Euro,” said the deputy premier, to be precise. The IOC, as is its way, has taken this troubling news as a positive, saying it is totally fine with the prospect of a Games funded entirely by regional governments.

After all, it’s not like Italy has any experience with large infrastructure problems. (The preceding sentence should be read in the sarcasm font.)

If you have paid any attention to the Olympic bidding process over the last several years, you will know that we have approached the delicious prospect of a no-bid Games.

It’s just that now, we are closer than ever before.

Democracies have routinely ejected themselves from the bidding process once the realities of the funding problems have become apparent: Norway, the United States, Switzerland, now Canada, all have found reason in recent bid processes to take a pass.

Stockholm already bailed out of 2022 just a few years ago, which is one of the reasons why the 2022 Games are going to Beijing, which just hosted the bloody thing 10 years ago and has the minor problem of an utter lack of snow.

Calgarians waited in line to vote on the 2026 Winter Olympic plebiscite in New Brighton on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. Gavin Young/Postmedia

This is, ultimately, a problem of the IOC’s own making. It tut-tuts now about the wonderful financial reforms of its Agenda 2020 plan, which was intended to stop the Olympics’ remarkable proficiency at breeding white elephants, but with Tokyo 2020 already forecasting billions of dollars in cost overruns, potential bidders are correct to be skeptical.

Over and over, the IOC has voted to make the Games bigger and more logistically demanding, which only leads to them becoming more expensive.

When it decides to add niche sport after niche sport to the Olympic program, it says it is doing this to make the Games more inclusive and modern.

What it also does is force the Olympic hosts to build facilities that will have no local purpose after the torch was extinguished. The IOC decided to formally add golf to the summer games in 2009, in time for Rio 2016. But Rio is to golf as Beijing is to snow: the Rio organizers had to build a new course on a stretch of wetlands, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, an expensive golf course in a city of non-golfers has proven problematic.

The Olympic course was to become the permanent host of the Brazil Open, but by last summer the event had been moved back to Sao Paulo.

In this photo taken on February 13, 1988, fans cheer the Canadian delegation (lower right) during the opening ceremony of the XVth Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. JONATHAN UTZ/AFP/Getty Images


It’s these kinds of stories that have brought the IOC to where it now stands: searching for dance partners and getting awfully close to the end of the song.

So, what now? When Sochi was setting new records for Olympic bloat four years ago, the suggestion of finding permanent hosts for the Games started to get some traction. The IOC dismissed it: bringing the whole dog-and-pony show to different places was part of its essence, it said.

IOC boss Thomas Bach this month waved off the possibility of messing about with the process for 2026, even as doubts were raised about all of the then-finalists.

“We are in the race for 2026 and we will not change the rules in the middle of the race,” he said.
That is usually how races work, yes. But what happens if there is no one still running at the finish line?


Source:The Canadian Press

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