Calgary voters have clearly rejected the idea of bidding to host a second Winter Olympics in the Canadian city. If you can’t sell the Games to Calgary, the Olympics are in serious trouble, writes DW’s Chuck Penfold.More than 56 percent of the Calgarians who voted in Tuesday's plebiscite on whether to bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics gave the idea the thumbs down.
It was a surprisingly clear decision, with the polls prior to the vote having predicted a much closer result which could have gone either way. But the people have spoken, and they have delivered a clear rebuke to the idea of using public money to fund the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) two-week long winter party. Calgary City Council is expected to formally kill the bid at a meeting next week.
Of course, it's impossible to say exactly what turned so many Calgarians off of the idea, but there are a number of plausible factors, not least the IOC's reputation, which has been tarnished by a number of scandals over the past couple of decades. Foremost in Calgarians minds, though, had to be the costs associated with hosting the Olympics.
It's no secret that plenty of cities that have hosted either the Summer or Winter Olympics have found themselves left with hefty bills to pay – often including white-elephant venues – years after the athletes have come and gone. Montreal, Athens, Rio de Janeiro and Sochi are just a few of the examples.
However, this doesn't have to be the case, as demonstrated by Vancouver's very successful 2010 Winter Olympics, which, according to VANOC (Vancouver's organizing committee) broke even. This, apart from the success of the Canadian athletes at their last home Winter Games, is one reason Canadians look back with fondness on the 2010 Games.
This is a lesson that was not lost on the organizers of Calgary's proposed bid for 2026. And having hosted the Winter Olympics 30 years ago, Calgary had an advantage that few candidate cities have; the proposal put forward by Calgary 2026 envisioned using 11 of the venues that hosted events in 1988. Sure, they would have had to be refurbished, but this would have come at a fraction of the cost of building new ones from scratch.
And as disappointed as Mayor Naheed Nenshi and the bid committee may be, when you look at recent history, perhaps it really shouldn't come as any big surprise. Over the past five years, whenever populations of cities eyeing a bid have been given their say, they have rejected the Olympics – including in Germany.
In 2013, 52 percent of the voters of Munich and Garmisch-Partenkirchen said "nein" to the 2022 Winter Games, while at the other end of the country, just under 52 percent rejected the idea of Hamburg bidding for the 2024 Summer Games.
Elsewhere in Europe similar votes also killed several proposed bids including three for 2026, Graubuenden and Sion in Switzerland; along with Innsbruck, Austria, host of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Games. That's not to mention bids like Boston or Budapest that were dropped without a plebiscite – due to obvious strong public opposition.
But it's Calgary's clear rejection of 2026 that should really make President Thomas Bach and all the rest in the IOC's Lausanne headquarters really sit up and take notice. While the IOC's Agenda 2020 shows that they have been paying attention, it looks like it has not gone far enough. It's hard to imagine any city coming up with a more fiscally conservative bid to host a Winter Games – in a city in which many if not most will still look back fondly on those two weeks in February in 1988 that really put Calgary on the map in the eyes of the rest of the world.
If you can't sell the Olympics to voters in Calgary, what democratic society can you sell them to?