Calgary voters tell city to take its Olympic bid and stick it where the sun never rises

Well, well, well: Turns out after Calgary city officials rescued the city’s 2026 Olympics bid from the brink of death with a last-minute renegotiation with the Canadian federal government, city residents voted to send it right back to the grave yesterday, delivering a 56-44% verdict that the city should not offer to host the Games.

While technically the city council could still move ahead with the bid, since federal and provincial funding was contingent on a “yes” vote, that’s not going to happen:

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said “The people have spoken in big numbers, and have spoken clearly.”

When asked if the bid is dead, the Mayor said “Yeah, it’s very clear.”

With just seven months to go before the International Olympic Committee makes its decision on a 2026 host, this leaves only Stockholm and a joint bid by the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina in the running. And Stockholm’s new city government has declared itself opposed to using any public funding to build Olympic facilities or cover cost overruns, while the Italian national government has said it won’t contribute “one euro” to Milan-Cortina costs.

None of this is likely to turn out to be the long-awaited collective global middle finger to the IOC’s host city demands — either Stockholm or Milan-Cortina will likely figure out a way to host the 2026 Winter Games. But it is absolutely a sign that more and more cities are pushing back on the IOC’s insistence that host cities foot the bill for the Games — and cover any shortfall if they lose money, which they almost always do. It’s the reason why the IOC picked 2024 and 2028 Olympic hosts (Paris and Los Angeles) at the same time, and why the committee is constantly touting its promises to cut costs and reduce the number of white-elephant velodromes left scattered around the countryside in a Games’ wake. Push may not have come to shove just yet, but it seems to be heading there, and if it does it’ll make for some very interesting negotiations around the 2030 and 2032 Olympic bid races.

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15 comments on “Calgary voters tell city to take its Olympic bid and stick it where the sun never rises

  1. If Calgary said NO to the Olympics ( which is one way to have paid for a new Flames Arena ( not to mention a New Stadium for the Stampeders)), I wonder what the future holds for the team in Calgary?

    1. Since it is a quite profitable team IIRC, I suspect they will just keep whining, and eventually reduce their terms down to some level that the city can stomach.

    2. You know Ken King has already been on the phone to city hall and the premier’s office asking about the $390m Calgary committed to the games and the $700m the province did…

      “If you would just give us that money, maybe we could build something to help ‘Calgary’ out…”

      And if we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs. If somebody paid for the eggs.

    3. I think many likely view it as apples versus oranges. The Olympics is a totally different animal than building a single new arena. The Olympics would mean HUGE costs and years of upheaval. A single arena? That’s tiny in comparison and a deal for that probably eventually gets worked out as long as the owner doesn’t get too greedy.

  2. I am genuinely surprised. Typically the yes side in these questions get so much municipal funding (it’s a budget item, often times) that they can sway the undecideds with the promise that “it’ll be great, don’t believe any of the financial facts the no side is trying to tell you”.

    This time, it didn’t work.

    Bravo, Calgary. Bravo.

    And if you want to upgrade your olympic (or other public) facilities, you still can do so… just use the $400m you planned to donate to the IOC quadrennial grift-fest. I bet the province would match you dollar for dollar too, if it had confidence that 70% of what they put in wouldn’t be vacuumed out by a Swiss bank….

    1. I’m wasn’t that surprised. Check out how the Boston bid went. It never went to a public vote but every poll that was ever done on it was hugely against the idea. Obviously, different cities involved but the Olympics are a tough sell to the average resident who isn’t a politician or real estate developer. Costs are ridiculous, there’s steady hassle due to construction for years leading up them, and afterwards you’re left with a bunch of white elephant venues that’ll likely never be used for their intended purpose again.

      1. The polls usually show the public against any subsidy (even the ‘save our team’ arena/stadium deals). The surprise is that with all the money spent by the “YES” side it didn’t sway public opinion enough to give the council cover to say yes.

        Given the relatively modest plan here (refurbish existing venues rather than build new) I really thought the yes side would be able to ram the bid vote through…. glad Calgarians saw through the charade.

  3. If you believe the Calgary Sun poll done 5 years ago 83% of people in Calgary supported another Winter Olympics. So this means they would be happy to host them but not at the going price.

  4. Neil – what do you make of this bit in this CBC article below about Salt Lake City being a dark horse in the 2026 race, that the IOC probably won’t mind if both Stockholm or Milan/Cortina bail, and that SLC could basically “host the Games next year.”

    1. If both remaining bids fail, it’s very possible. It’s become somewhat fascinating. Both bids look decent. They’re playing it smart with the money. The Swedish government has said they won’t help pay for the games, but the organizing committee has been very vocal about how they won’t be asking for any public money…which is good, because they won’t get any. But it looks like they’re even going to have a tough time getting the government to even give them a guarantee on security, which has to come from the federal government. The Italian bid seems to have more support and appears to be the IOC’s preferred choice right now, even before Calgary dropped out. They didn’t even seem to bat an eye over the Calgary vote, but they’ve been spending quite a bit of time to keep Italy in the race. Italy now has regional and local governments on board and, even though Rome has so far said they won’t be providing funds, they’re providing a lot of other support and may be softening on providing a little money. There’s rumors that Turin may also rejoin the bid. They just need to put their financing plan together.

      Salt Lake City is the overwhelming favorite to win the games in 2030. USOC is already moving to finish the nominal competition between Salt Lake City and Denver. Denver already has one foot out the door and SLC has a high level of support from both the government and the public on a 2030 bid. By moving quickly, the USOC seems to be positioning themselves to be ready in case all the bids for 2026 collapse. LA 2028 pioneer Casey Wasserman will be playing a huge role in however this shakes out. This man is looking like a genius with each passing day for how he swung a crazy deal with the IOC to take the “consolation prize” of 2028 in exchange for darn near whatever he wanted, giving the IOC what it desperately wanted: over a decade of stability for its marque event, the Summer Olympics.

      What the IOC really wants now is to bring the Winter Games back to Europe. If they can secure one of the two remaining candidates for 2026, that would be a massive win for the IOC. They’d bring the Winter Games back “home”, and, with SLC waiting in the wings for 2030, they’d have the Winter Games secured for the next decade plus as well. We’ll see what happens.

    2. Rob Livingstone knows his stuff, so if he says Salt Lake could be ready in time for a 2026 bid, I’d trust his judgment. I’m sure the IOC would rather get Milan or Stockholm and save SLC for 2030, but if they both keep balking at the cost guarantees? Sure, maybe.

    3. Thanks for the answers. It’s interesting stuff. There are people here in Calgary that are upset because the feeling is that an opportunity was missed. Amazing how that gets sold. Done properly, one could extract some benefits perhaps. But we could barely get a bid plan together in time for a plebiscite; no idea why people then figure we could have managed hosting the Games and come away clean.

      1. I personally believe Calgary could’ve hosted a very economically efficient games, but the bid planning and coordination with federal officials was a confusing mess that led to the result we ended up with.

        1. The manner in which the bid clumsily came together and how it was sold – pushing the warm fuzzies and spirit instead of demonstrating the meat behind the plan – did not instill a lot of confidence. I did my best to read up on things from sources I knew leading up to the vote, and that’s what I saw, and I don’t know why, but I seem to be coming across better info after it all now – with all the articles dissecting things – that suggests that indeed an acceptable plan might have been in place. So you not only have to have a good plan, but have to know how to communicate it – know your audience. Some people fall for the cushy side of hosting the games, but in a city of people who are used to working on mega-projects (oil sands, myself included) and seeing a constant stream of blown estimates (though you will likely still pull out fine with oil), many of us needed a better message I think. A lesson for others or a possible future try again here: have a good plan and get all your partners on side, financial contributors and voters. Calgary made the right choice in this case. Go back to the drawing board.

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