Calgarians' desire to be informed on 'minute details' biggest challenge of Olympic bid: IOC

Local business leaders posed some tough questions to the IOC and Calgary's bid committee Tuesday morning at a Q&A event hosted by the Calgary Chamber.

Business leaders ask IOC and Calgary 2026 officials tough questions on bid process

Hannah Burns, the IOC's head of promotion for Olympic Games and Olympic candidatures, and Christophe Dubi, the IOC's executive director of Olympic Games, speak to business leaders at a Calgary Chamber event Tuesday. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Officials from the International Olympic Committee and Calgary 2026 faced tough questions Tuesday on what the impact is to an Olympics host city, at a Q&A event for local business leaders hosted by the Calgary Chamber.

"The key question we don't know is what is the cost to the taxpayer at the end of the day and how long will it take to take to pay back. And is that is an acceptable amount of time and is it an acceptable investment into the venues and the infrastructure that comes along with hosting an Olympics," said Calgary Chamber CEO Sandip Lalli, who moderated the panel.

IOC officials Christophe Dubi and Hannah Burns told those in attendance Tuesday morning that the new host city contract gives cities, not the IOC, the final say on major decisions.

"The IOC cannot impose to an organizing committee for the Olympic Games, cannot impose contractually. When we add or there is a change, there is a conversation and an economic discussion," said Dubi.

Dubi said that, for example, when the decision was made to add a big air snowboarding event in Pyeongchang, that cost was paid for by the IOC.​

However, Dubi said that's part of the reason that cities are on the hook for major cost overruns and that the IOC's reserves aren't used to pitch in and absolve the taxpayers' burden.

"We are not responsible for the actions that are decided on a day-to-day basis. As a result we cannot be financially responsible for the actions of the parties," Dubi said.

Calgary's bid corporation, Calgary 2026, was established in June with former national-team skier and real estate entrepreneur Scott Hutcheson as chair and hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser as vice chair.

Fans cheer and wave flags as the Canadian delegation parades during the opening ceremony of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. (Jonathan Utz/AFP/Getty Images)

Hutcheson said the 1988 Winter Olympics is remembered as one of the most successful Games in part because it left a $70-million endowment fund that WinSport (formerly known as the Calgary Olympic Development Association) was able to reinvest in a continuing legacy for sports in Calgary.

"Calgary is really building on a legacy whereas other communities are building a legacy," he said.

Dubi said the documentation shows that Vancouver's Olympics also had a strong positive legacy, from tourism, to ongoing usage of permanent venues, to jobs created and sustained since 2010.

High expectations

When asked about the risks of hosting, Dubi said the largest challenge is that Calgarians want to be informed about what he described as every "minute detail" of the bid process, and that there is a group in Calgary that strongly opposes hosting the Games.

"It wouldn't be fair to ask anyone from the local authorities to the bid corporation to have detailed numbers at this time and detailed plans," he said.

"Expectations are very high."

Erin Waite, communications lead with the No Calgary Olympics campaign, said that while the Q&A was a good first step toward engagement, it's not enough given that tickets to the event were limited and went for $100.

"Calgarians don't know very much about this process and how it's going, and with no engagement yet, we aren't informed," Waite said.

Erin Waite is the communications lead for No Calgary Olympics. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

"We're very concerned about the cost. We have not heard any costs yet and those won't be available until September.… The city committed to engage with Calgarians. That process has stalled out and I hear there have been problems to get that engagement going."

Waite said one of her largest concerns was that the IOC does not participate in cost overruns, which must be guaranteed by the host city.

"That lands completely on Calgary taxpayers and that's a real problem.

"The bigger the project, the bigger the potential cost overruns. I'm just not sure we're ready for that or we need that."

The bid exploration committee has estimated the cost of hosting the 2026 Winter Games at $4.6 billion, with games revenues to cover almost half the cost. 

That figure, however, is under review. The price tag of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., was about $7.7 billion.

Dubi said the IOC's final decision will rest on what city brings forward the best "value proposition."

The deadline to bid for the 2026 Games is January. The host city will be announced in September 2019.

Calgary is expected to host a plebiscite on the issue before the end of the year.

With files from Tiphanie Roquette, Audrey Neveu