Nenshi says evidence should override emotion in Calgary Olympic bid discussion
'If Calgary wants to bid on the Games, they're going to get it,' sports economist says
In the afterglow of Team Canada's impressive hardware haul at the Pyeongchang Olympics, Calgary's mayor says hard evidence and not warm, fuzzy emotions should drive the debate over whether to vie for the 2026 Winter Games.
"Obviously people are very excited about the Olympics right now, particularly after the tremendous showing of Team Canada in Pyeongchang," Naheed Nenshi said Monday.
"It's actually one of the reasons why I didn't want to do a ton of public engagement during the Olympics, because I'd like cooler heads to prevail as we continue to have this discussion."
Nenshi went on a fact-finding trip to South Korea earlier this month along with other municipal and provincial politicians.
Canada brought home a record 29 medals — 11 gold, eight silver and 10 bronze — in Pyeongchang. Its next-best medal count was during the 2010 Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., when it won 26.
City has until late spring to decide
Nenshi said it would be great to have some time for the enthusiasm to cool down, but decisions need to be made soon.
Nenshi said city council has until late spring to make a firm call on whether or not it's serious about a bid.
"By the end of June, we really should have an idea of what the finances look like and what the commitment of the federal and provincial governments would be."
The province is still chewing on the issue, Alberta Premier Rachel Notely told reporters in Edmonton.
"There are a lot of pros and cons to it, and we have to look at value for dollars and things like that," she said.
The Calgary Bid Exploration Committee has pegged the cost of holding the Games at $4.6 billion, with revenues covering about half that.
Coun. Jeromy Farkas said while he understands the emotional appeal of a Calgary bid, he's skeptical about whether it's the best use of government money.
"I'm really concerned that we're barrelling down a pre-determined outcome where it's becoming harder and harder to say no," he said.
Concordia University sports economist Moshe Lander said emotion has been driving the debate since well before Canada started racking up the wins in South Korea.
He said post-Pyeongchang enthusiasm is unlikely to sway anyone already dead-set against or fervently in favour of a 2026 bid, but it may bring some fence-sitters into the pro camp.
"I think the last two weeks is going to do nothing other than encourage them," Lander said.
Lander said Calgary should not bid for the Olympics, but is likely to make that mistake anyway.
"This is a train that's gathered too much momentum now," Lander said, adding other bidders are unlikely to stand in its way.
"If Calgary wants to bid on the Games, they're going to get it."
Decision should be vision-based
Milena Parent, an expert in sports governance at the University of Ottawa, said the case should be made based on the city's vision for itself 20 or 30 years into the future, rather than just hard dollars and cents.
There are too many variables for economic analyses to accurately predict the long-term impacts in advance of a bid, she suggested.
Rather, Calgary needs to ask whether hosting the games would bring benefits on less tangible things, like civic pride or skills development.
"If Calgary can answer this question, I think it would go a long way to being able to determine whether or not this is the right strategy to get what it wants," Parent said.
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