Calgary

Keep Olympic bid exploration going, athletes urge Calgary city council

A group of athletes teamed up Friday morning to promote the potential benefits of Calgary hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics after city councillors made the surprise move of agreeing to vote next week on possibly ending its bid exploration process.

'The big picture is more than just the money. And it’s more than just 16 days of sporting competitions'

Olympic luge athlete Jeff Christie says it would be disappointing if Calgary city council kiboshed the possibility of hosting the 2026 Olympics without examining it any further. (CBC)

A group of athletes teamed up Friday morning to promote the potential benefits of Calgary hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics after city councillors made the surprise move of agreeing to vote next week on possibly ending its bid exploration process.

After some council members balked at a $1.9-million public consultation plan introduced on Tuesday, the finance committee voted to refer the question of even continuing any Olympic bid exploration work to the full council on Monday.

More than a dozen present and former top Canadian athletes gathered for a media event at the WinSport facility in Calgary, which is also home to the Canadian Sport Institute and the Canadian Sport School, where budding high-performance athletes learn and train.

Calgary bobsledder Helen Upperton, who won silver in Turin in 2006 and again in Vancouver four years later, said council should continue to look at whether or not hosting an Olympics makes sense for the city.

"As athletes, we're not saying a definite yes to the bid. We're saying that Calgary's a great city, Canada's hosted three great games — two incredible Winter Olympics — that have left a substantial positive impact on the community," she said.

More than a dozen former and current top athletes gathered at WinSport on Friday to try to convince Calgary city council to keep exploring the potential for a 2026 Olympic bid. (CBC)

"But the big picture is more than just the money. And it's more than just 16 days of sporting competitions. It's everything that's left behind. And 30 years later you can see what's left behind. All of us benefit from this incredible legacy."

Jeff Christie, who competed in luge in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, said Calgary's 1988 legacy helped shape his life.

"The legacy introduced me to a sport that taught me discipline, focus, innovation, joy and sorrow, to name a few," he said.

"I believe that there are over 400 Olympians living in Calgary right now that could tell you a very similar story."

City council voted last month to support the creation of a bid corporation. That vote was 8-6 and was contingent on the federal and provincial governments chipping in $20 million to support a bid.

But in recent days, some of the councillors who supported the creation of a bid corporation have expressed second thoughts.

Diane Colley-Urquhart said she's not impressed with the way the whole process unfolded, and in particular didn't like that council had no say in choosing the four people picked to run the engagement process.

She said their participation should have been contingent on their neutrality on the question of whether Calgary should make a bid.

Brian Orser carries the flag into the stadium in Calgary in 1988. Calgary is among several other former hosts interested in staging the 2026 Games. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Nenshi acknowledged that the city has made mistakes, but he said it's premature to shut down the bid exploration process, noting that hosting the Olympics could net Calgary substantial infrastructure investment from the province and from Ottawa.

Christie implored council not to kill the possibility of Calgary hosting the 2026 games before it has all the necessary facts.

"I don't have a desire to leave my future kids with a debt they have to burden. But I do have a desire to leave them with a similar legacy to the one that impacted me," he said.

"Any Olympic bid must be an economic Olympics. And again, the process to determine this seems to be under threat of being shut down."

A report by the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee last year said the Olympics could cost $4.6 billion and have revenues of $2.2 billion.

That $2.4 billion gap would be closed by the three levels of government, with the bulk expected to come from Ottawa.

The International Olympic Committee has seven cities including Calgary that have expressed an interest in hosting the 2026 games.

A decision on a host city will be made by the IOC in September 2019.

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