VANOC's cost-saving plans rankle politicians

A proposal to scale back on 2010 Olympic medal ceremonies is raising the ire of Whistler, B.C., politicians who have already committed millions of dollars for nightly parties around the events.

A proposal to scale back on 2010 Olympic medal ceremonies is raising the ire of Whistler, B.C., politicians who have already committed millions of dollars for nightly parties around the events.

The 2010 organizing committee, known as VANOC, has suggested scrapping the plan to award alpine and nordic event medals at nightly celebration events in Whistler as part of an ongoing review into how they can shave costs off their $1.6-billion operating budget.

"VANOC felt there must have been a reason why that would simplify their lives and potentially save money, but council said it's very important for the Whistler community," said Mayor Ken Melamed.

"Many members of the Whistler community thought this was a fantastic win for Whistler."

The medal ceremonies are the first time a mountain host venue has been allowed to hand out medals. More than half of the total medals being awarded during the Games will be for events in Whistler.

VANOC didn't propose an alternate plan on how they would award the medals, Melamed said.

"They were looking for feedback and the feedback essentially was negative. Council did not want to go there," he said.

The town has planned a multimillion-dollar party around the medal ceremonies, including the construction of the celebration plaza.

Funds for the plaza's $13.6-million budget were contributed by the federal government, the organizing committee and the municipality of Whistler.

The plaza is also supposed to host the closing ceremonies for the Paralympic Games.

The plaza will continue to be developed, Melamed said, and cultural events will be held as planned.

"It'll be an important legacy for Whistler after the Games ... that part doesn't stop," he said.

But Melamed said the proposed change has irked council and at a special meeting Tuesday night they decided to hold off on Olympic-related bylaws until the organizing committee makes up its mind.

Council also remains concerned about transportation and housing during the Games, he said.

"[Council] wants VANOC to understand the community has some very strong feelings about some of the agreements that have been understood over the course of the delivery of the Games," he added.

The bylaws would help ease the Games-time housing crunch in Whistler as well as allow for temporary retail and other outlets during the Olympics.

The Olympic committee is having such difficulty securing accommodation in Whistler and the surrounding area that they recently revived a proposal to rent cruise ships in Squamish, B.C., to house workers.

The bylaws have attracted opposition from some residents who are concerned the temporary stores would eat into promised business profits and lead to a carnival-like sales atmosphere in the city.

VANOC reviews Games venues, plans

The organizing committee wouldn't confirm they are looking at cutting the medal ceremonies.

"All Games time venues and plans are currently under review, given the economic downturn and the final preparation of the update to the VANOC business plan," said a statement from Terry Wright, VANOC's executive vice-president for service operations and ceremonies. "Until that review is complete and the business plan is given final approval and then made public, it would be inappropriate to comment on specifics."

Melamed said holding back on passing the bylaws wasn't intended to hold VANOC hostage and he hopes the two sides can find a way to keep the medal ceremonies as planned.

Similar events are planned for Vancouver and will be held at BC Place stadium.

Organizers had earlier said they were combing through the budget to sort the "must-haves" from the "nice-to-haves" in an effort to ward off any potential hit from the slumping economy though so far, they've not been directly affected.

Cuts are also being proposed to staffing and travel budgets but the board of directors has already warned the committee against going too far and taking from the spirit of the Games.

The new budget will go before the board on Jan. 21.

Whistler's council will reconsider the new bylaws a week later.


  • The budget for the celebration plaza in Whistler is $13.6 million, not $13.6 billion as originally reported.
    Dec 24, 2008 1:53 AM ET