Sensing a Calgary bid for the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games is about to die, some Canadian athletes have mobilized to keep it alive.
About 50 active and retired athletes held a news conference Friday at Canada Olympic Park urging city council not to quit on a bid before all the facts are known and the financial picture is clear.
Many of them were Olympians and Paralympians from Calgary, or who moved to Calgary, and built their careers on the legacy of the 1988 Winter Olympics in the city.
They’re organizing a campaign of letters, texts and social media messages to councillors in advance of the vote.
“Keep exploring the bid and not just shut it down before there’s more information,” two-time Olympic speedskater Gilmore Junio pleaded.
Councillors are expected to vote early next week on whether to continue work on a potential bid. A slate of recommendations that kept a bid on the table barely passed last month with an 8-6 vote.
The Alberta and Canadian governments have committed to financially supporting a bid corporation. A bid is estimated to cost $30-million.
The provincial government wants Calgary to hold a plebiscite measuring interest in hosting another Winter Games.
But some city councillors are frustrated by what they say is a lack of information and clarity around the process.
A city bid project team took over the work of the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee, which estimated the cost of the games at $4.6-billion.
The International Olympic Committee said in January it would give US$925-million to the 2026 host city.
The IOC’s deadline to submit a bid is January 2019. The winning city will be announced in September 2019.
Calgary has already spent $6-million investigating and analyzing what a bid might look like.
“The city has already said they’re interested in the games,” former luger Jeff Christie pointed out. “They’ve committed resources to it and the whole picture hasn’t been presented yet.
“Council is confused. I get it. Let’s not be confused and just stop. Let’s finish the process, understand and see if this is an economically responsible games to potentially bid for.”
Mark Tewksbury, an Olympic gold medallist in swimming now on the Canadian Olympic Committee’s board of directors, says it’s important let a bid corporation, with money from other levels of government, do its work.
“Allow external money to come into this exploration, allow it to become a bid corporation, take it out of the hands of city councillors with some leadership that can be 100 per cent committed to exploring this and getting back with the answer of if it makes sense or not,” Tewksbury said.
Calgary’s Chamber of Commerce chimed in Friday saying the business community wants to go further down the road of exploring a bid.
“Businesses and all Calgarians deserve the right to see the outcome of a rigorous analysis, to weigh the pros, cons, costs and benefits of a potential Olympic bid,” the chamber said in a statement.
The COC asked city council to let citizens have a say via a plebiscite.
“It’s an opportunity that could shape a vision for Calgary, Alberta, and Canada for generations,” president Tricia Smith said in a statement.
“Even if there are understandable concerns about undertaking such a project, we’re having a conversation well worth having.
“We are confident that the city councillors will provide the citizens of Calgary the chance to decide that vision by proceeding with a plebiscite.”
Canadians who either train full time in the Calgary area, or who have used the facilities for competition or training camps in their careers, won a combined 39 of 57 medals at the recent Olympic and Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang South Korea, according to the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary.
Mark Arendz moved from Charlottetown to Canmore, Alta., several years ago to train at the Nordic Centre that is one of the 1988 legacies.
He won six medals in biathlon and cross-country skiing, including a gold, at the Pyeongchang Paralympics.
“What I’m hoping council will do is stay in this game and find out everything about it and listen to the legacy that does come from a games,” Arendz said.