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Calgary Olympic bid survives after city council vote

A Canadian bid for the 2026 winter Olympic and Paralympic Games remains on the table after a crucial city council vote in Calgary yesterday (Monday) saw the project given the green light to proceed.

Calgary’s proposed bid was in jeopardy after the Canadian city’s council last week passed a motion for it to definitely state its support or non-support for the proposal. Calgary’s priority and finance committee heard that C$6m (€3.75m/$4.7m) has already been spent on exploring a bid, with questions continuing over the value of committing to a full proposal that has been estimated at C$30m.

However, council yesterday voted to reaffirm backing for continuing the bid by a 9-6 margin after two councillors who had previously opposed the effort reversed their stance. However, a new subcommittee will be formed to oversee the bid project – a body that will be chaired by a councillor rather than Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Ward Sutherland was one of the councillors who reversed his decision. “I’ve struggled with this for five days,” Sutherland said in council chambers. “This is the first time in five years I’ve actually changed my decision (and) I cannot sleep at night with the decision I made (last) Tuesday because I think I was just frustrated with the process.”

Sutherland said the new subcommittee was one of the reasons he changed his mind. “The logic behind it makes sense and I’d like to see this at least go to June,” he added, according to the Calgary Herald newspaper.

Last week’s initial announcement saw Olympic athletes, sports bodies and business leaders start a campaign calling for councillors not to abandon the bid. Nenshi described the campaign as “a huge waking up of what I think is the silent majority in this city.”

He added: “When you try to do something different, when you try to do something innovative and transparent, you end up making your sausage in public and sometimes people don’t like the hotdog. But ultimately I think that’s better. Do I in some ways feel like there’s been a lot of headaches that could’ve been avoided through a more traditional process? Absolutely. But is it the right thing to do if we’re truly serious about reform and modelling that kind of behaviour to the IOC (International Olympic Committee)? I think so.”

The city, provincial and federal governments would split the C$30m bid cost three ways. The Canadian and Alberta governments have backed the formation of a bid corporation, with the provincial government keen on a plebiscite to assess public support for the Games. Nenshi said he expects a plebiscite could be held between October and early 2019.

“If we move forward, it has to move forward on terms that are favourable to Calgarians,” Nenshi said. “A lot of people have been saying, ‘Oh, it’s so expensive, it’s going to triple Calgary’s debt.’ Well if that were the case, we wouldn’t do it.”

However, Jeromy Farkas, one of the councillors who voted no to the bid, questioned whether 2026 is the right Games to target. He said: “I have to ask, why the hurry? A 2030 bid makes a lot more sense to me because we can actually go into it eyes wide open. We can ensure that the public support is there.

“The issue is bureaucratic inertia. It just seems like from the get-go it’s been a done deal, two full years down this process without that opportunity for public input. It’s the definition of insanity to repeat the same behaviour expecting different results.”

Calgary hosted its sole edition of the winter Olympics in 1988 and will need to submit a complete bid book for the 2026 Games in January. The IOC is due to make a final decision on the host city in September 2019.