Illustration by Tricia Lim

Why the Gauntlet is endorsing a ‘no’ vote on the 2026 Olympic plebiscite

The following editorial was written for the upcoming November issue of the Gauntlet print magazine, which was produced prior to the federal funding announcement and revelations published in the Calgary Herald on Oct. 29 of the potential termination of Calgary’s bid. Given these developments, we are publishing this editorial now to provide our position and rationale.

 


 

October 29 2018 —

Calgarians will head to the polls on Nov. 13 to vote on a plebiscite for whether the city should bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. It’s been a hotly divisive issue, with staunch supporters and detractors of the bid remaining vocal.

The Gauntlet editorial board is planting itself in the latter camp. Here’s why.

For starters, there are swathes of misinformation about the city’s potential bid — or for some aspects, a deliberate lack of information. Let’s boil it down to the basics. The current baseline price tag for hosting the Games in Calgary is estimated to be $5.2 billion. Of that, the Calgary 2026 bid corporation states that it will require $3 billion in public funds, with the rest coming from ticket sales, sponsorships and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) itself.

It’s worth mentioning that the full $5.2 billion price tag is not even listed on the Calgary 2026 website, brochure or presentation. Public funds in excess of $3 billion would still have to be used should the estimated revenue from outside the private sector not meet expectations. That does not include a potential cost overrun, which has been a reality for the past 12 Winter Olympic hosts.

For a corporation tasked with arming citizens with the information needed to make an educated vote, the bid corporation failed. In fact, Calgary’s bid corporation might as well be considered a publicly funded extension of the YES Calgary team.

Of that $3 billion in public funds, the Alberta provincial government has pledged $700 million. Details have not yet been released regarding federal funding, leaving the public investment required from the city itself still up in the air.

Regardless, our sentiments about the large commitment for public funds to host the Games essentially boil down to this — public investments of this magnitude would be better spent directly on public services. Meaningful investment in our community should not be held hostage on the condition of hosting a three-week mega-event that lines the pockets of IOC executives in their Lausanne corporate offices.

The City of Calgary itself has not yet budgeted to 2026 for its operational costs to run itself as a city. With a finite amount of resources, the funds the city must put up to host will either increase debt or have to be taken out of other projects. This means less money to go towards infrastructure, public transit, social and community services or youth programming, to name a few things the city provides.

Affordable housing is often used as an example of a public service that could be fostered by hosting the Olympics. The spaces built for the competing athletes would be converted into affordable housing, which would admittedly benefit underprivileged Calgarians. But fostering these services should be done regardless of whether or not the Olympics are hosted. And the $700-million pledge by the Alberta government already shows these funds are available.

Touting this affordable housing argument is also ignorant of the historic impact hosting the Olympics has had on vulnerable populations. The 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta displaced 6,000 from their homes by demolishing public housing. In Rio, officials count 304 people that were forced from their homes, though that is likely an underestimate, and their plans to convert the athlete village to public housing never materialized. Social housing resulting from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics was only half what was promised.

If proponents of the Olympic bid really cared about providing affordable housing for Calgarians, they would admit that it is entirely possible to do so without hosting the games. Having affordable housing contingent on winning the bid is simply an act of class conflict.

Beyond the impact in Calgary, hosting the Winter Olympics could also specifically impact University of Calgary students, whose winter semester could commence later in the year.

Though we’ll hopefully have graduated on from our time here at the U of C by 2026, it’s important to recognize how this would affect future students. If the school year were to start late into February, this would push the calendar back, meaning less time in the summer to make money to support yourself through the school year and taking four-month summer internship opportunities away from these future students. 

Finally, the concept of the ‘legacy’ brought by hosting the Games should be abandoned in making a rational decision. The Calgary 1988 Olympics is often pointed to as a turning point for the city and yes, the Games did give our city international exposure.

But we no longer live in 1988. A nostalgic desire to recreate the vibe of the city during the ‘88 Games is not an argument we believe has merit. Today, the Calgarians that I know are still hard-working, compassionate people that live in a vibrant city and the same will be true in 2026 without the Olympics.

We can strive to be a world-class city without funding the Olympic Games. Calgarians should vote ‘no’ on Nov. 13 to make it clear that we believe we can catalyze social change without shelling out billions of dollars for the IOC.

Derek BakerGauntlet editorial board

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