Olympic venues in jeopardy following defeated Calgary 2026 bid
As Canada Olympic Park plays host to the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation for a competition on Winsport’s bobsled track, there is concern over how much longer these venues have left.
Winsport, the not-for-profit that oversees the venues, has already confirmed it is closing three of its ski jumps, and the sliding track may face the same fate due to a lack of funding.
The city’s decision not to move forward with a bid for the 2026 Winter Games following a citywide referendum is forcing Winsport to begin making tough decisions.
“We found a way to be able to, I thought, cost-effectively address these issues. The city has chosen differently,” said former YES Calgary 2026 community organizer Jason Ribeiro.
“I want to make this clear: the voters of the city are never wrong, but these are the harsh realities that come with these kinds of decisions.”
Ribeiro was one of the more outspoken members of the Yes vote heading into the Nov. 13 plebiscite. Although residents knew of the ski jump closure during the debate about whether or not to host the Olympics, Ribeiro said only limited information was released about the future of Calgary’s Olympic venues without hosting in 2026.
“While we’re certainly aware of the ambiguous future that lies ahead without another games and without another major influx, now some of those harsh realities are coming to light, and I think it’s a sad state of affairs, not only for Calgarians, Albertans and Canadians but wonderful athletes around the world,” Ribeiro said.
Winsport was set to receive a large influx of funding if Calgary was to pursue a successful bid. The bid would have included funding for major facility upgrades at Canada Olympic Park, McMahon Stadium and the Olympic Oval — facilities built for the 1988 Winter Olympics.
WATCH: Calgary looks at options for sports facilities without Olympic funding
Without that money, Winsport was forced to close the jumps, which will be decommissioned at a later date. The three jumps require $350,000 per year to maintain operation.
The 90-metre jump will remain standing but won’t be used for competition.
Less than six months after that announcement from Winsport, the sliding track is now in jeopardy.
A major renovation to the track is $8 million short of the total cost of $25 million.
Winsport officials said the track needs a completely new refrigeration system and that money provided by the two levels of government will not cover all the expenses associated with the renovation.
“We are aware that infrastructure related to the 1988 Winter Olympic Games is reaching the end of its life cycle,” said Alberta Ministry of Culture and Tourism special adviser Marion Nader in a statement.
“The Alberta government considers these requests, along with all other infrastructure needs throughout the province, as part of its capital plan. All future requests for new investment in these facilities would need to be considered as part of that process.”
The federal minister of science and sport had a similar message when asked whether the feds would fork over the remaining money for the project. Instead, Kirsty Duncan wants to see a solution be found locally.
“We were disappointed that Winsport has decided to take this independent decision,” Duncan said at an announcement in Calgary on Feb. 13. “We have provided $6.8 million in order to keep this open, and it is our hope that there will be a local solution because we want our athletes to train on world-class sport infrastructure.”
WATCH: What’s next for Calgary and Canada when it comes to Olympic bids?
Calgary city councillors have also been disappointed with the response from the federal and provincial governments. Although the city’s Olympic bid financials will be presented at a meeting later this month, officials said the city doesn’t have the funds to cover the remainder for the bobsled track project.
“It’s really a federal and provincial issue, and we’re disappointed as a city that they’re not stepping up for the full amount,” Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland said Wednesday. “The other orders of government don’t fulfil their responsibility, and suddenly everybody comes to the city and we’re supposed to fill that — we just can’t continue to do that.”
According to one political expert, the hesitation from government to provide the remaining funds for the bobsled track can be attributed to multiple factors, including whether Calgary still sees itself as an Olympic city.
“You’ve got a bunch of people who may not feel as connected to the Olympics as the older generation might,” Janet Brown said. “Couple that with tough economic times, and I think it’s a really hard sell right now for governments to be putting money into sports.”
Global News reached out to Winsport for comment on the Olympic infrastructure and did not receive a response.
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