Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi says city’s study of Olympic bid on track

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi says there is a lot to do, but enough time to do it, in determining whether the city should bid for another Winter Olympics.

City council has a July deadline to decide on whether to throw its hat in the ring for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

A 17-member exploration committee, led by former Calgary police chief and politician Rick Hanson, is currently studying facilities, security, costs, public engagement and government support.

City council approved a $5-million budget last year for the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) to do its work.

City administration reported to council Monday on its working relationship and oversight of the exploration committee.

No members of CBEC were present, so few details of their work were revealed in council chambers.

“This report is very general, but I have had the ability, just very briefly to see some of the work plans and the draft work that are coming from the consultants that have been hired and it is of very high quality,” Nenshi said during a council meeting break.

“They bring a whole variety of perspectives, hard-nosed financial analysis, along with hard-nosed sports analysis and venue analysis and it seems like they’re really on the right path here, but let’s let them do their work.”

The 1988 Winter Games in Calgary cost $829 million, which wouldn’t be enough to cover security costs now.

The price tag of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, was reported to be $50 billion.

The exploration committee is tabbed to finish its work in May just eight months after members were introduced to the public. Among them are Olympic gold medallists Catriona Le May Doan and Beckie Scott.

“Tight timelines continue to be one of the greatest challenges facing CBEC,” Calgary recreation director Kyle Ripley told council.

No other Canadian city has expressed an interest in 2026.

If the Canadian Olympic Committee gives a Calgary bid the green light, the city’s name would be put forward to the International Olympic Committee in September. The winning bid will be announced in 2019.

“I’m not that fussed about the timing on this because we are talking about something that’s nine years away,” Nenshi said.

“The Canadian Olympic Committee has to make a decision not between cities, but on whether there will be a Canadian bid at all sometime this autumn.

“We as a council have already agreed to make a go, no-go decision on a bid by June-July time frame so everything is proceeding apace.

“We’re delayed a week here, a week there, but we’re certainly keeping to the intent of the original timeline.”

The Calgary Sports Tourism Authority’s initial estimate for Calgary to host the 2026 Games was $5.3 billion, which would be less than the $7.7-billion of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

The cost of Vancouver’s bid was $34 million in 2003.

“I will tell you I have seen some very drafted advance work, very sophisticated analysis that the committee is working on that makes me feel more comfortable that this could look more like Calgary ’88 than like Sochi,” Nenshi said.

The mayor acknowledged the provincial and federal governments need hard financial numbers before they’ll back a bid.

A wrinkle in Calgary’s ruminations is Edmonton’s interest in the 2026 Commonwealth Games. Two international multi-sport games in the same province in the same year is a big financial ask.

Commonwealth Games Canada has denied Edmonton’s request for an extension to bid. The deadline was Dec. 31, 2016, but Edmonton wanted until July to decide.

Nenshi says Canada proved it can stage multiple major events together when the women’s World Cup of Soccer and Pan American/Parapan Am Games were held in the same month in 2015.

“I think everyone agrees that if we’ve got a good opportunity to land an Olympic Games and it makes financial sense, then that’s something that really is much higher profile than any other sporting event,” he said.

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