A slight majority of Calgarians surveyed for a recent poll support a potential bid for the city to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Fifty-three per cent of those polled by phone supported the bid, one third opposed it, and 13 per cent were undecided.
“It kind of reflects what I feel,” Olympic committee chair and city councillor Evan Woolley told Global News. “There is a certain component of Calgarians that are strongly in support. There is a certain component that are strongly opposed. And there is a broad middle of people who would like to have more information and be engaged, and want to ensure, whether you’re talking about cultural legacy, financial viability and all of those other really, really important questions.
“They have a lot of questions that have been unanswered and that we’ll be seeking to communicate and engage with them coming into September.”
Of those who opposed the bid, “cost/taxes” was by far the biggest reason for opposition, with funding sources a distant second.
Of those supporting the bid, the benefit to the economy, an increase in tourism and reinvigorating the city were the top three responses.
And of those who said they were undecided, having a clear outline of the cost of the bid and a clear outline of the cost of hosting were neck and neck in factors that would help them decide whether or not to support a Calgary 2026 bid.
WATCH: Calgary city council’s Olympic committee had a summer meeting on Tuesday to look at what’s next in the bid debate. Councillors got an outline of the draft hosting plan for the games which will be made public on Sept. 10. Lauren Pullen reports.
NRG Research Group conducted the telephone survey for the City of Calgary.
Five hundred Calgarians were polled between July 23 and July 29. The polling company used a random mix of landlines and cellphones and included a mix of citizens from various age groups, genders, ethnic backgrounds and all four quadrants of the city.
The city manager commissioned the study to establish a baseline of Calgarians’ attitudes towards a potential Olympic bid. The poll is part of a report to be presented to the Olympic Games assessment committee on Tuesday.
Yes Calgary 2026 organizer Jason Ribeiro told 770 CHQR he is happy the city and assessment committee have taken a survey to find Calgarians’ opinions of a bid.
“This is our floor. I really do think this is a sentiment of where we are in relation to this process, about [what] people see as the positives of this bid. Certainly, people are concerned about the funding sources and the cost, as we are on the supportive and the Yes side, but I do think that once that information gets released those figures will go into our favour.”
WATCH: Calgary 2026 bidco CEO Mary Moran joins Global News Morning Calgary
A majority of people polled said they agree that the Games would increase tourism in the city and that the Games showcase host cities on a national and international stage. A majority also agreed that Calgary has an active, competitive sports community, that hosting the Games enhances community spirit and is a great opportunity to build or upgrade local facilities.
Only 38 per cent agreed that Calgary can’t afford to host the Olympics, while 28 per cent disagreed with that statement.
The survey is considered accurate within 4.38 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Cost overruns for Olympics is one reason for concern. A 2016 Oxford study looking at Games hosted between 1960 and 2016 found that the average cost overrun for hosting Winter Games was 142 per cent and the median was 118 per cent.
Erin Waite, communications advisor for the “No Calgary Olympics” group, told 770 CHQR’s Danielle Smith the overruns are her primary concern.
“What I’m most worried about is the costs end up being driven to the IOC-set schedule. So everyone knows the timeline, everyone knows the deadline of needing whatever you’re building build for the olympics. So with that very firm time deadline, that’s where you can have a major risk of cost overruns.”
Ribeiro said the re-use of existing facilities allays those concerns.
“It’s so promising about Calgary putting forward a bid is the idea that we’re going to be reusing some existing facilities. That we’re relying upon a legacy of 30 years that has proven to be quite successful. That it’s something that no other city in the entire world has done.
“So do I think that the cost overruns of Sochi and Rio are our concerns? Absolutely not.”
When asked who is on the hook for any cost increases, Waite shared her understanding.
“My understanding is that our city council signed off on a principal that said the City of Calgary would not cover cost overruns. That’s a principal for them to go ahead with the bid.
“So, they are counting on the cost overruns being slotted somewhere else. That would mean either the province, the federal government, or Canmore.”
LISTEN: Proponents for and opponents of Calgary’s 2026 Olympics bid joins Danielle Smith:
For Ribeiro, Calgary taxpayers get all the benefits while spreading the costs across multiple jurisdictions.
“We are the lowest portion of the pie here, City of Calgary taxpayers are the lowest portion and we get all of the tangible benefits.”
“My preference is that, if that money (for events like the Olympics) is going to be spent, it be spent in Calgary,” Ribeiro noted. “I want it to be done in Calgary so we can get a lot of that spin-off, so we can get the economic benefit.”
The city’s Olympic committee has been researching ways to keep down the costs of hosting the 2026 Winter Games, which could include hosting some events outside of Calgary in cities like Edmonton or Whistler, B.C.
“Absolutely,” Woolley said about the possibility of other cities hosting as well. “There’s a certain balance between the investment and hosting and logistics of having — as much as possible — everything in one place, while appreciating there are certain venues and other opportunities to share costs in other locations.”
Woolley said this is in line with what the International Olympic Committee has been doing with other cities around the world to help reduce costs that have inflated over the past Olympiads.
“As a part of Agenda 2020, we are, and the IOC, and all people that are interesting in hosting Games, are looking at hosting them in different ways, and that is, ‘How can we spend as little money as possible?,’ whether that’s refurbishing arenas or reusing other spaces in brand new ways.
“It becomes very, very challenging to put a good value proposition on why you would invest tens or hundreds of millions of dollars into a ski jump or other facilities if there is ample capacities at nearby locations.”
While questions remain about how costs surrounding a multi-city bid would be shared, Waite says Calgary, as host city, would be responsible for those costs.
“One of the budget buckets is the cost to operate the Olympics, so, presumably, direct costs related to the venues would be in that bucket. We are the host city, so we would be carrying responsibility for it. And then it’s up to that multi-party agreement to figure out the cost sharing. All of that is up in the air and we don’t know what that would look like.”
Waite says the details of any cost-sharing agreements must be made public before a plebiscite.
“We have to. You could not go ahead without that being clear. What would we be voting on? We don’t know.”
Woolley admitted to a lack of communication with Calgarians on the true cost of hosting the 2026 Olympic.
“We have not done as good as a job as we should have in terms of engagement. Part of that is this has been an iterative process over the last number of months. We’ve got other levels of government, and we’ve been undertaking significant negotiations through the summer.
“And one of the things we’ve been clear about is we want to ensure that whatever numbers we present to Calgarians are good numbers.”
Calgarians are scheduled to go to the polls for a plebiscite on Nov. 13.
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