Yes and No side debate merits of Calgary bidding for 2026 Olympics
'No one is giving us billions of dollars to do anything other than the potential of hosting these games'
One side sees a once in a generation opportunity. The other side sees a failure of imagination with a potentially huge financial downside.
Both sides of the Calgary Olympic debate were represented Tuesday on The Eyeopener, when host David Gray spoke with Yes Calgary 2026 organizer Jason Ribeiro and No Calgary Olympics organizer Erin Waite. Both provided compelling arguments for why the city should or should not bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.
With one poll suggesting support for a bid is dropping, Ribeiro said that was the result of an absence of a vocal Yes group to this date.
"There hasn't been a Yes side thus far. I think council has gotten a little bit hosed on this, in the past few months, in the sense that they were supposed to be impartial," Ribeiro said.
"Councillors that were purportedly supportive of exploring the opportunity were told to tamper it down, and people in opposition were also told to tamper it down," he added.
"The more positive side has tampered down, and I think the opposition side has only increased," he said. "That's created a little bit of a dichotomy that's filtered through the media and now — with a Yes side — I expect those numbers to go up."
Last 5 cities have said no thanks
Waite pointed to data that suggests the more that cities know about what's involved with an Olympic bid, the less likely they are to support making one.
"I would point to the last five cities that have had votes — plebiscites or referendums depending on the city. Each of them have voted no and those no votes have increased when each of those cities voted," Waite said.
"That tells you the more citizens know, the more they turn away from hosting."
Waite's chief objection to a Calgary bid is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the organization that sets the terms by which a city entertains a bid to become an Olympic host.
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"We're not competing to do something for Calgary, we're competing to do something for the IOC," she said.
"That's what I have a problem with. That structural competitive process, it results in these rising costs, because you're trying to win a competitive bid with another city.
"That's where you get into the problem of costs and overruns — and [it's] simply something our city doesn't need right now."
Global winter sports powerhouse
Ribeiro said that Calgary's Olympic legacy, its reputation as a global winter sports powerhouse, and the opportunities hosting an Olympic games can offer a city make it worth doing.
"Just as the poll has been released, the IOC has also admitted they are going to give the host city over $1.2 billion [$925 million US] in Canadian money, half of which will be in cash. That's historic," Ribeiro said.
"There are other things to consider in terms of benefit to Calgary," he added. "We are a winter sports powerhouse. We have legacy facilities. I don't think its prudent to consider ourselves in comparison to other cities that aren't as well positioned.
"And we need to have a conversation about do we want to be that kind of winter sports powerhouse going forward? Our facilities need to retrofitted and upgraded. This could be a way to do that."
While Waite suggested that there might be other, less risky major projects that the city might undertake, Ribeiro countered with the argument that hosting the Olympics tends to be a once in a generation opportunity for a city to tap into federal and provincial infrastructure dollars.
"Let's be clear: no one is giving us billions of dollars to do anything other than the potential of hosting these games," he said.
"We don't have this $4.6 billion dollars sitting around to go to education.
"The only reason we're having this conversation is because of the potential of [hosting] the Olympics.
"So for people who claim to be upset about equalization dollars going out of this province, for people who say Calgary and Alberta are not at the forefront of Ottawa's coffers — this a chance for Ottawa [federal] money and Edmonton [provincial] money to flow back into the city, to build out our infrastructure."
Hosting won't fill empty office towers
Waite argued that hosting the Olympics barely even addresses many of the city's most pressing problems.
"What else could we be doing as a city just coming out of a downturn with half empty downtown towers?" she asked.
"Hosting the IOC won't fix any of that or help any of that."
"I think there are other things or projects that would be appealing and attract funding. So I would say it's simply a lack of imagination to say its hosting an Olympics or nothing."
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.