IOC arrives in Calgary hoping to ease pain of potential bid for 2026 Winter Games

The International Olympic Committee is paying a visit to Calgary this week as part of a new process meant to entice more cities to bid by making the process cheaper and easier.

New approach is meant to make it easier, and cheaper, for potential host cities to prepare a bid

Fans cheer and wave flags during the opening ceremony of the Calgary Olympics in 1988. An IOC team is visiting the city to offer help and listen to plans for possibly hosting the games again in 2026. (Jonathan Utz/AFP/Getty Images)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is paying a visit to Calgary this week as part of a new process meant to entice more cities to bid by making the process cheaper and easier. 

With multi-billion dollar budgets for everything from facilities to security, the IOC has been forced to be more helpful to cities that may be interested in hosting. 

"The IOC is taking a new, more sustainable approach to engaging with interested cities at this stage of the bid exploration process, and this is the first time the IOC has provided this opportunity to a winter games candidate city," reads a news release from the city.

The director responsible for Calgary's Olympic bid says the IOC is pushing cities to consider upgrades to existing infrastructure to keep costs down.

"They don't want cities to build new facilities," Kyle Ripley told CBC's The Homestretch.

"They are really encouraging cities to look at their existing complement of facilities and how those can be utilized to support a Games that are more cost effective."

He says the committee is also open to sharing costs and profits with other communities, like Edmonton and Whistler, B.C.

"The IOC is encouraging us to look outside of the city ... even outside of the province and even the country, if need be, to make sure we have a Games [that reduces] our risks and costs."

New protocols

The visit is part of what's now called the dialogue stage, which runs until October 2018, followed by a more formal candidature stage. A formal bid must be submitted by January 2019. 

Previously, cities would have to pay for an IOC team to visit and learn about the would-be host's plans, but the IOC wouldn't offer any advice or support. Now the IOC shows up on its own dime and tries to help streamline the process. 

"It's meant to get rid of that whole sense that you can buy an Olympic Games," said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. 

"So the fact that the IOC is doing this is a real signal of their commitment to a much more open process, and it's something that I think people in Calgary will really welcome."

Millions to explore bid 

Calgary council voted in November 2017 to stay in the running for the games, topping up the budget for exploring a bid with another $1 million and promising $1 million more if the province and the feds get on board. 

Council will again debate moving forward in February if the other two levels of government don't formally support the bid by that time. 

Nenshi said that from the conversations he's had, it seems like Edmonton and Ottawa are both willing to "put a little skin in the game to further explore this."

It's estimated submitting a bid to the International Olympic Committee could cost as much as $30 million. Hosting the games is estimated to cost about $4.6 billion. 

Risk and reward

Coun. Shane Keating says the visit is a good opportunity to have a frank conversation with the IOC representatives. 

"This is a great way, in some ways, for council to say, 'if you're really changing your way, that's great, we'll be interested,'" he said. 

"If this is just another time for us to foot the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars and the Olympics has a great event, then we're not interested."

That comment was echoed by Coun. Jeromy Farkas who said he's hearing from constituents that the "risks are out of line with other, more needed investments at this time."

Five cities are reportedly interested in hosting the 2026 Winter Games, although none has formally submitted an application. 

The city says the IOC team will visit "the region's legacy winter sport facilities" and learn about the bid committee's vision for the 2026 games.