Fact from fiction: What’s actually in Calgary’s Olympic hockey bid?

The Saddledome in Calgary, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

No, the 2026 Olympic hockey tournament will not be played in Edmonton.

Should Calgary vote ‘yes’ in next week’s Olympic plebiscite and eventually be awarded the Winter Games, its prized event will be hosted entirely in Calgary. The Calgary 2026 Bid Corporation felt the need to reiterate that point this week via a myth-busting section on its website following months of misinformation, spins and half-truths from both sides the debate.

Calgarians have less than a week until the Nov. 13 plebiscite to separate fact from fiction, while trying to overcome the frustration of a bid marred by changes right up until last week’s bid-saving vote. One of the most perplexing components of the draft hosting plan concept revolves around the two rinks tabbed to host hockey games.

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The Scotiabank Saddledome – an aging product of the 1988 Games – was declared “adequate” by touring IOC officials vowing to make the Games more affordable for potential bid cities. Prior to that the desire to keep costs down on new venues prompted talk of farming the hockey tourney out to Edmonton’s shiny new rink, which was as well-received in Calgary as a pipeline protest.

As part of the bid, the 19,289-seat Dome would receive tens of millions of dollars in renovations to host up to three games a day, including the mens’ medal matches and the women’s gold medal game. Upgrades to the 35-year-old façade would include enhanced accessibility, extended life of ice plant, as well as mechanical and structural maintenance.

It amounts to lipstick on a 35-year-old pig.

The other hockey venue would be one of two legacy facilities to be built for the games – a 5,000-seat arena to be built next to McMahon Stadium.

The bid corporation’s unveiling of plans for the medium-sized rink was met with tremendous derision from many, including Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who wondered what good a rink that size would do for Calgarians outside of the 18-day party. (The bid suggests it would host University hockey, local, provincial and national tourneys, as it would also include a second community rink.)

The cost of the arena is lumped in with a neighboring (and much-needed) field house to be built for a combined $400 million. It prompted locals to ask why, say, $150 million for the rink couldn’t be thrown towards a new, $550 million NHL event centre like the one the city and the Calgary Flames abandoned talks on more than a year ago.

A city council committee was recently struck with an eye on reigniting talks with the club. Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. (CSEC) spokesman Ken King said he’d entertain such meetings but only if all talks were kept out of the media. They have been so far.

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The Calgary 2026 bid includes keeping the door open for the possible addition of a world-class arena/event centre should the Flames and the city somehow bridge the massive gap between them.

There are two schools of thought on that possibility. Some believe an Olympic bid would tap out the city of any potential funds for an arena deal with CSEC.

Others believe the promise of the Olympics would spur the mayor on to add to the Games’ legacy by finding a way to broker a deal with the Flames to add a new stadium as a crown jewel to the event, much the same way a new rapid-transit line and convention centre were built in time for the Vancouver Games, outside of that bid’s budget. Where it gets tricky is that the feds and the province have long said they aren’t in the business of funding NHL arenas, making it a bit of a grey area if the rink is included in an Olympic bid that includes $1.45 billion from Ottawa and $700 million from the Alberta government.

Regardless, there’s still widespread disbelief in town that an Olympic Games with a budget of $5.075 billion would not somehow include the proper sized arena.

Had the Flames and the city been able to quietly broker a deal to get a new venue built as part of the Olympic discussions, many believe it would have been the tipping point on an extremely divisive plebiscite that could easily go either way. Alas, it’s not on the table.

What is also yet to be determined are the two practice facilities for the Olympic tourney. The draft hosting plan suggests the two arenas at Max Bell Centre would be used.

A bid spokeswoman said Father David Bauer arena would be used, as it is also situated in the Foothills cluster next to McMahon.

In the final week leading to next Wednesday’s plebiscite, Calgary 2026 supporters have hosted a number of rallies that have included appearances by endless Canadian Olympians including Donovan Bailey, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and even famous British ski jumper Eddie the Eagle of 1988 fame.

Donovan Bailey of Canada celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men’s 100 meter final at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Saturday, July 27, 1996. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

The full press is on to get frustrated Calgarians over city council’s bungling to date and focus on the billions in funds being injected into the city. Hockey Canada president and COO Scott Smith said he was consulted on the bid 18 months earlier when the initial plan included using the 68-year-old Corral. But not since.

He and Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney have been vocal supporters of the bid.

“We’re encouraging people to vote and we’re telling them we voted yes,” said Smith, well-versed in how extensively the bowels of the Dome would have to be renovated to accommodate the 12-team mens’ tourney. (The womens’ tourney includes eight nations).

“The Olympics is a great showcase for sports and it would be amazing to have the Olympic games operated on Canadian soil and, ultimately, in Calgary.”

They are battling a No vote campaign based largely on the argument the city can’t afford to put itself at financial risk with the Games, especially given the province’s tattered economy.

A yes would set in motion a final preparation for the bid to the IOC in January, followed by a vote in June awarding the 2026 Games to one of the expected finalists, Calgary, Milan-Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy or Stockholm, Sweden.

Calgary is the heavy favourite.

There are no current plans in place for NHL players to return to the Olympics, although it’s widely assumed a tournament held in North America would make it a no-brainer for a return of best on best.

However, the league has one, maybe two collective bargaining agreements to tackle before that, and the Olympics will certainly be used as a pawn in both sides’ negotiating tactics.

If the bid continues past next Wednesday you can bet there will be plenty more moves in this high stakes chess match.

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