Calgary explores hosting Winter Olympics in 2026

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — Calgary is looking at hosting another Winter Olympics.

The city council voted Monday to spend up to $5 million on an exploration committee to study a possible bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

Calgary was the host city of the 1988 Winter Olympics.

The Canadian Sport Tourism Authority says it will raise private funds to defray the cost of the exploration committee’s work.

“What council heard today is it’s time. It’s time to explore this bid in detail,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

“What council endorsed today was an opportunity to go forward, spend a little bit of money, gather more data.”

The International Olympic Committee will select the 2026 host city in 2019.

Venues from 1988 such as the Olympic Oval, Canmore Nordic Centre, and the sliding track at Canada Olympic Park still host international competition and serve as training centers of national teams. The ski jump at COP, however, is obsolete.

Calgary’s 1988 legacy and proximity to mountains has kept the city in conversations about future Winter Games bids.

The Canadian Olympic Committee sent query letters earlier this year to seven cities drawing populations more than 750,000.

The COC inquired if those cities were interested in, or wanted information about, hosting either the 2026 Winter Games or the 2028 Summer Games. The unidentified cities have until June 30 to respond.

Speculation about a Calgary bid accelerated when other cities lost interest in hosting. Quebec City said in May it was no longer considering a 2026 bid.

Toronto Mayor John Tory declared after last summer’s Pan American Games that the largest city in the country would not throw its hat in the ring for the 2024 Summer Games.

When cities dropped out and left only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, competing for the 2022 Winter Games, the IOC adopted a series of reforms called Agenda 2020 to make bidding for an Olympic Games less expensive.

Any Olympic bid requires support from both the federal and provincial governments. Nenshi said he received no red lights from either.

“We have not had a flat-out ‘no,'” Nenshi said. “If we’d had a flat-out ‘no’ I would not have brought this proposal to council today.”

A 2013 study concluded the 2010 Vancouver Olympics cost roughly $7.7 billion when taking into account construction and operations. The Games organizing committee said it “broke even.” The cost of bid was $34 million.

The drop in oil prices has hit the Alberta economy hard, but Calgary councillor Richard Pootmans pointed out Calgary was in a deep recession when it bid in 1981 for the 1988 Games.

“The city was looking for projects to inspire them, was looking for projects to help stimulate the economy,” he said prior to council debate.

“This is almost exactly the same circumstance. We have a troubled economy at the moment. Why not have an inspiring large project to re-energize the city?”

Important elements of a Winter Games bid are a modern stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies and a hockey arena. Scotiabank Saddledome was built in 1983 and McMahon Stadium in 1960.

The Calgary Flames have pitched an $890 million arena/stadium/fieldhouse project to city council with taxpayers covering $200 million of it.

A city report pegged the project’s bill at $1.8 billion, however. Council asked the Flames to look at other locations and options to bring down costs. The two sides are scheduled to meet again next week.

But Flames Sports and Entertainment president Ken King has said their project isn’t tied to an Olympic bid because of a bid’s long timeline and uncertainty.

The Flames want shovels in the ground sooner than 2019.

“Our project is a bonus to a bid as opposed to a bid necessarily being a bonus to our project,” King said after a city council meeting in April.

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