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Sports Minister rallies behind Calgary Olympic bid

Canada’s Sports Minister Kent Hehr has backed plans for Calgary to bid for the 2026 winter Olympics, citing the legacy of the city’s staging of the event in 1988 as a reason to press ahead with the proposal.

The City of Calgary last month voted 9-4 in favour of committing up to C$2m (€1.3m/$1.6m) in additional funding for a study on a potential bid for the 2026 winter Olympics and Paralympics.

It came after the city council voted 10-4 in favour of maintaining the process. Calgary had already dedicated C$5m to exploring the possibility of a bid.

An additional C$1m would also be committed to the project, should federal and provincial governments quickly come on board. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said governments must declare their allegiance before the end of the year.

Hehr has written to Nenshi to ask for more details on the bid. “We want to know what the benefits are and what was to be expected to at least ensure that they know our door is open,” Hehr said in an interview with Canadian public-service broadcaster CBC.

He added: “I know an Olympic bid, deep in my heart, would be something that would be extraordinary. But you have to balance it in a real way. We're always excited when communities like Calgary are thinking about putting their hat in the ring about bringing the Olympic Games to this nation.”

Discussing Calgary’s staging of the 1988 Games, Hehr pointed to the uncertainty that had initially surrounded the bid. Hehr suggested that similar misgivings over a bid for the 2026 Games should be outweighed by the potential legacy impact the event could have on the city.

“There were lots of naysayers around that (the 1988 Games) as well,” he said. “But the legacy that was left, the opportunities it gave kids in the community to develop, I think were well worth the angst and the time.”

He continued: “The 1988 winter Olympics in Calgary are still a model of success on how to build a great Games and to leave a legacy of infrastructure and community building. Can we actually do this? Can we put our shoulder to the wheel and pull this off? That's what people wondered and I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Calgary definitely did do it in 1988.”

Calgary’s city council has stated that the future of the bid would be discussed in February, should it not receive support from other levels of the government. Hehr said the initial push for the bid would have to come from the city itself.

“They want to make sure they take a reasonable, fair approach in a pragmatic fashion that balances out the realities of the public purse and the realities of moving forward,” he said.

“I'm in this business to build community, to build people up to give people an opportunity to succeed. Calgary has a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit and has a tremendous volunteer spirit and it has a tremendous amount of pride in understanding on sporting events and what they mean to communities.”

Christophe Dubi, executive director of the Olympic Games for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in September said that talks over the 2026 Games were held at the IOC’s Session with Innsbruck (Austria), Sion (Switzerland), Calgary (Canada) and Stockholm (Sweden).

Innsbruck has subsequently dropped out following a referendum, while the likes of Almaty (Kazakhstan), Telemark (Norway) and Sapporo (Japan) have also expressed an interest in bidding. The US Olympic Committee is weighing up its options with Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno all touted as potential bid cities.