OTTAWA: Ottawa and the province of Alberta have struck a last-minute funding deal to salvage Canada’s 2026 Winter Olympics bid ahead of a crucial vote Wednesday on canceling the process.
Calgary city councilors are scheduled to decide on a recommendation from the Olympic committee to end their pursuit of hosting duties over a lack of cash from the central and provincial governments.
But talks overnight between federal and provincial officials resulted in a proposal to fund most of the public costs, and reduce Calgary’s share of the burden.
“A deal (was) reached between the feds and province,” a senior Canadian government source told AFP, on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly on the agreement.
“Calgary had asked that there was a provincial and federal agreement in place before they could make a funding decision on their end. Now that that is in place… it’s up to Calgary now to decide,” the official said.
The agreement — which would see the original Can$3 billion (US$2.3 billion) public portion of the Games budget reduced slightly and, along with it, each party’s share of the costs — has been validated by federal Sports Minister Kirsty Duncan and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.
If Calgary city council votes to keep its bid alive, the next hurdle would be a referendum on November 13.
Evan Woolley, chairman of the Olympic bid committee, held out little hope of the council voting to move ahead, however, telling public broadcaster CBC the funding deal had been struck too late to allow Calgarians to make an “educated decision.”
– Scared off –
The host city of the 2026 Winter Olympics will be announced in June next year in Lausanne. Calgary withdrawing its bid would leave only Milan and Stockholm in the running.
The International Olympic Committee is facing a scarcity of applications for the Winter Games, with many being scared off by the huge bill for Sochi 2014.
Several cities that initially expressed interest in hosting the 2026 edition pulled out after tepid support from their local populations.
As the last Canadian city to host the Winter Olympics in 2010, Vancouver lost tens of millions of dollars despite the event costing a relatively modest US$7 billion, when compared to the US$50 billion for Sochi.
Calgary previously organized the 1988 Winter Games and so can save on facilities, but new construction will still be needed.
Financing talks came to a head on Friday, when Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi threatened to end the city’s bid if the federal government didn’t pony up more money.
“If we cannot come to a mutually agreeable conclusion by Monday, I deeply regret that I will have no choice but to request that Calgary City Council cancel the plebiscite and thus terminate the bid; an event none of us want,” he told the Calgary Herald.
Ottawa had initially held fast on its offer, saying it was in line with its share of the costs to host other major sporting events — notably the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. —AFP