Nenshi doubts Calgary will approve 2026 Olympic bid without major changes in IOC contract

Calgary will likely reject another Olympic bid or put off its decision until 2018, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Wednesday.

'My sense is council may just say no,' mayor says, as Calgary Bid Exploration Committee report release looms

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks to reporters Wednesday about the prospect of the city making another bid for the Winter Olympics. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Calgary will likely reject another Olympic bid or put off its decision until 2018, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Wednesday.

The mayor said he's "not a big fan" of the cost estimates already presented by the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee, which projects a $2.4-billion shortfall between revenue and costs if the city were to host the Winter Olympics in 2026.

Nenshi doesn't expect the committee will recommend a "yes" vote in its final report to city council, which is due to be debated at Monday's council meeting but could be made public as early as this afternoon.

"I don't think that is what the recommendation will be at all," the mayor said. "We'll see, but I don't think that's what will come out."

The International Olympic Committee announced earlier in July that it would push back its deadlines for submitting bids to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games.

The winning bid is set to be announced September 2019 and the formal bid process has now been shortened to one year, down from two.

With less interest around the world in hosting the Olympics, the IOC is also in the process of revising its policies to reduce costs for host cities.

The Saddledome, built as part of Calgary's preparations to host the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, is one of the venues that could be re-used if the city hosted another Olympics in 2026. But the bid exploration committee says a new, full-sized arena would also be needed. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

"Given that the IOC has extended their timing, it'll be very, very difficult for council to make a final yes decision before we see the IOC's bid city contract," Nenshi said.

"And our preliminary work has really shown that, unless the bid city contract changes, it's going to be very difficult for any city to bid. So my sense is council may just say no. But if they're intrigued or interested in going further, it's really a matter until waiting until after Pyeongchang."

The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, run from Feb. 9-25, 2018.

Nenshi said the biggest concern, for him, remains the multibillion-dollar cost that the public purse would be expected to bear if Calgary were to host the Olympics under the current financial arrangements with the IOC. 

"If we're going to spend that kind of money, we have to ensure that we've got good legacy projects in place," he said.

"And also we have to recognize that, if the IOC is making a bunch of money off of international sponsorships and international media deals, then the host cities can't be stuck with any operating deficits. So, we need to figure out a better way of doing it. But I think the IOC understands that with all host cities."

Councillor calls for plebiscite

Meanwhile, another member of city council is now calling for the question of an Olympic bid to be decided through a direct vote by citizens.

Coun. Sean Chu said Wednesday he has submitted a notice of motion to put the question to a plebiscite.

"I want you, the voters of Calgary, to formally make this decision," Chu said in a written statement, published online.

Unlike Nenshi, Chu said he expects the bid exploration committee will recommend council support an Olympic bid.

But, like the mayor, he worries about the cost.

"I also have concerns with the model of the Olympic Games: the host country pays for the construction, takes all risks, absorbs cost overruns, and has responsibility for all maintenance once the 17-day event is over," Chu wrote.

"The IOC keeps the rights to advertising and broadcast rights. The IOC places huge demands upon the host city. Then leaves."