'Calgary might be the only city left standing': A glimpse into Olympic bid politics

Just how badly does the International Olympic Committee need Calgary? The Calgary Eyeopener asked Robert Livingstone, who runs a website that tracks Olympic bids, for some insight.

2 European cities in the running will hold referendums, making the IOC nervous

The cost for Calgary to host the 2026 Winter Olympics would be $4.6 billion, according to the city's bid exploration committee. But could Calgary host the games for less? (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Just how badly does the International Olympic Committee need Calgary?

An exploration committee has come out with an estimated price tag of $4.6 billion to host the 2026 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

That prompted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to take the unusual step of suggesting it could help Calgary find "significant savings."

The Calgary Eyeopener talked about the current bidding climate with Robert Livingstone, who runs, a website that tracks Olympic bids.

Q: How unusual is this, that the IOC says, 'Oh wait, that sounds too high,' even before Calgary makes a bid?

A: It's very unusual. As you said, there is no bid yet and the IOC typically doesn't like to comment even when a bid is underway. They don't like to interject, they like campaigns to run on their own and [to] make official remarks later on. So this is kind of unprecedented.

Q: So what's the backstory here? Is it — as some people are saying here —  the IOC needs Calgary more than Calgary needs the Olympics?

A: Well, that could well be the case. Bids recently, for the Winter Games and for the Summer Games, have been dropping out because of referendums, because of politics that say it's too risky, it's too costly. These are all valid points. We've seen for the last Winter Games — 2022 — four European cities out of six overall drop out, leaving Beijing to host the 2022 games at the end. For the Summer Games there are only two of five cities left – there's L.A. and Paris fighting it out. The IOC needs both cities so much at this point that they are willing to award both of them the games for 2024 and 2028.

Q: What else makes Calgary attractive? Our time zone hasn't escaped their attention.

A: Definitely. With NBC providing a large part of the broadcast revenue that IOC receives, a good U.S. time zone for prime time is a plus.… Calgary also as a previous host has existing venues and that's the big thing here. The IOC is going to shy away now from building from scratch as it has burned them in the past with Sochi and some of the other cities. So Calgary is ready — close to ready — as far as venue and experience, that sort of thing.

Q: Who else is already in? Who has already declared?

A: Sion in Switzerland — they've declared. The process doesn't open officially until next year, but they've got their government approval in place. So they can go ahead. Also Innsbruck in Austria is planning. They've run a feasibility study that was favourable so they are hoping to go ahead. There are some other cities in the mix that are further behind and may not lodge a bid at this point. But both those European cities will have referendums, one on Oct. 15 this year and another next year, and European referendums over the Olympics almost always don't do well. So that's the risk for the IOC at this point. Calgary might be the only city left standing.

Q: When the IOC sent this note about "Dear Calgary, it seems like you're overestimating how much this might cost to bid," did they make any suggestions on how to make the games cheaper?

A: Not specifically. There's a reform package that passed a couple years back and they've tried to relax the rules. So instead of having everything really close together, the venues can be spread out, even in other cities. Innsbruck has proposed in a feasibility study earlier this week, having one of the hockey arenas in Germany. They are trying to say you don't have to build all the venues, we can work on schedules, we can work on trying to share existing venues. L.A.'s bid for 2024, they are not building anything. They are using all existing venues and existing infrastructure, and I think that's the path IOC wants to take…

Q: Isn't there an argument out there that the IOC doesn't like giving back-to-back bids to the same region? If L.A. gets the summer games in 2024, does that hurt Calgary's chances?

A: That's the old way of thinking. It used to be that seven, eight, nine, 10 cities would line up. That's not too far [back] ago. That's kind of out the window. The IOC is taking what it can get....

Q: We haven't had a referendum on this here in Calgary, although according to our exploration committee they say 64 per cent of Calgarians support hosting the games. If we put that question to a referendum, what are your thoughts? Will those numbers hold?

A: Polls generally pull more favourably in favour of something than a referendum. The referendum is going to bring out the activists, and typically those numbers are going to drop. That's what happens in Europe....

Q: If Calgary becomes the only bidder for 2026, how does that change the negotiations? Does that make things suddenly much cheaper?

A: I don't know about cheaper. It's possible. Calgary would have an advantage there in the negotiations. I really think the IOC wants to work together… they want more hosts in the future. They aren't happy with one or two, so they want to do it right.... I think it would work out well in the end, possibly for both parties.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener