Calgary is coming up on an off-ramp for the 2026 Winter Games as city council contemplates spending more money on a potential bid.
A project team comprised of city administration and consultants asked council Monday for $2 million to continue the work of the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee, which ended operations Oct. 31.
Council heard the rationale behind the ask and will decide next week whether to grant that request.
"My understanding from what we’re hearing today is without the additional funding it will be very, very hard to actually move forward, so council needs to determine if they’re in for a bit more here," Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.
Council committed $5 million just over a year ago to CBEC, which concluded the price tag for hosting the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games would be approximately $4.6 billion.
CBEC predicted Games revenue would cover almost the cost, but another $2.4 billion would be needed.
CBEC’s work came in $1.5 million under budget. The savings were passed onto a city project team that has taken over assessing risk of hosting the Games.
Council wants a deep dive into addressing five areas before it greenlights a bid: capital costs; security; operating costs; finances; and financial guarantees.
Announcements by the International Olympic Committee since CBEC’s report have changed timelines and altered the financial picture for cities interested in 2026.
The IOC will invite cities to bid in October, 2018, followed by bid submissions in January, 2019. The latter is six months earlier than the original deadline for bids in late 2019.
The IOC also announced last month it will contribute US$925 million to the successful bid city.
Calgary recreation director Kyle Ripley says the project team is essentially doing the preparation work of a bid corporation, and with timelines tightening, more money is needed to ensure Calgary will be successful if it decides to bid.
He compared the process to a marathon with October the start line and January the finish line.
"It’s a four-month race," Ripley said. "Without that investment, we believe it will not be possible to proceed with a competitive bid.
"We recommend a higher level of commitment to significantly improve our chances of winning the marathon. Currently we are not positioned well to be getting ready for race day.
"If we continue at our current pace, we run the risk of showing up not prepared for the race."
A report submitted to council estimated a bid would cost between $25 million and $30 million.
"It’s council’s choice, it’s Calgary’s choice, but if we choose to bid, we’ll win," Nenshi declared. "The question is, is it right for Calgary right now?
"If it’s right for Calgary, then we will go all guns in. I think that we will have an incredibly powerful bid and I think we’ll win."
With fewer cities interested in hosting Olympic Games, the IOC has been overhauling timelines and rules for bidding and hosting to make both cheaper and easier to take on.
So those working on what a Calgary bid might look like have had to contend with a changing landscape. Host city contracts for 2026 won’t be released by the IOC until July.
Nenshi had hoped it would be March after the conclusion of the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"As I’ve said many times, the numbers have to work," he said. "If the numbers in the host city contract don’t work, we stop.
"There’s still off-ramps. There’s still an opportunity to say ‘no."’
Calgary and IOC officials are scheduled to meet in January for consultations, but the city isn’t required to make any presentations or guarantees during this "dialogue" or "invitation" phase.
"One thing that we’ve really heard from the International Olympic Committee is that they’re interested our candidature," Nenshi said. "They want to support us in putting the best bid possible forward."
The 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., cost $7.7 billion and the bid cost $34 million.
Calgary’s costs to host a Winter Games is lower in part because the city can reuse venues from the 1988 Winter Games, CBEC chair Rick Hanson has said.
Sion, Switzerland and Stockholm, Sweden are the other cities expressing the strongest interest in 2026. Innsbruck, Austria, dropped out after a recent referendum.