Out east, the folks in Toronto seem to be waning on the idea of bidding to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. After all, developing and submitting a bit would cost some money, and being that we’re in a recession, they probably don’t want to put too many of their eggs in one basket.
But out west? Well, a report by Postmedia’s Vicki Hall earlier today indicated something both eyebrow-raising (but not the least bit surprising) – there’s some work being done in Calgary on a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Now, the rest of Hall’s piece focuses on a potential internal conflict within the Canadian Olympic agency between Quebec City and Calgary. Quebec City wants to host an Olympics and has been trying for years to get a bid going. Calgary? The Stampede City has been there, done that, and the majority of Canada’s winter Olympic pipeline – in terms of training and development of high-level athletes – goes through Calgary and the facilities originally constructed for the 1988 games.
Which brings us to CalgaryNEXT and why there’s suddenly a renewed interest in Calgary bidding for the Olympics.
The Flames want to build a new arena and a new stadium, with a fieldhouse included. The city? Well, they don’t seem out-and-out opposed to the idea, but they seem to share the widespread public concern about the funding model. Everyone wants shiny new toys, but nobody wants to have to sell their clothes in order to buy them. The Olympics suddenly look pretty appealing because of the potential for a magical influx of external funding.
Vancouver received roughly $600 million from various levels of government – primarily federal – for construction and renovation of venues for the 2010 Olympics. (The city of Vancouver also kicked in a bunch of money to spruce up their city in various ways.) Theoretically, a 2026 Calgary games would receive similar funding. While most of the 1988 venues would probably need renovation, the foundations for holding an Olympics are pretty decent right now – especially given that few countries typically put in bids for winter games due to their costs. That could potentially allow for a good chunk of that governmental money to be used by the city to assist in building the mega-project that is CalgaryNEXT. And an Olympics could be used by the city to garner more infrastructure funding to spruce the city up for impending Olympic visitors – if you can imagine the city somehow unveiling the completed Green Line LRT prior to the 2026 games the same way it did the first few stations of the Northwest LRT line prior to the 1988 games, you know what I’m talking about.
Would a 2026 Olympics be a magic bullet of money that will solve all of the project’s problems with zero consequences? Well, no. The money would come from a government budget at some level, so giving Calgary money would take money away from somewhere else. But if one of the main pushes towards CalgaryNEXT is a combination of sentimentality and civic pride, exploring an Olympic bid is a pretty savvy way of doubling-down on that approach. The 1988 Olympics were a watershed moment for this city, and the spirit of volunteerism and togetherness allowed the delivery of an event that’s still remembered fondly for its impact on the local community (and for its long-term impact on the sporting infrastructure that Canada still employs today).
Right now, it seems like it’s just some rumblings. There are still two years until cities have to submit their candidacy to the International Olympic Committee (with a municipal election in the interim) – and the Canadian committee still needs to decide between Calgary and Quebec City.
But if you’re like many of us, who like the CalgaryNEXT concept but are furrowing your brow over how the heck anybody can afford to build it, the Olympics may be the best way to have your cake and eat it, too. (Or, in this case, to have your shiny new arena/stadium without having to abandon critical transportation infrastructure projects.)