Don Martin: Taxpayers have spoken, winter games not worth the Olympic-sized bill
The Lords of the Rings gazing down from their Mount Olympus headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland may have cause to furrow their collective brow at the goings-on in Calgary this week.
On the ballot of a civic plebiscite was permission to pursue a $5-billion government-backed bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
And for the first time in bidding-war history, a city which has already felt the magic of Olympic hosting gave the Games a pass.
Sure, four other contender cities had previously opted out. And of two surviving bids, Stockholm faces a civic government coalition built on opposing taxpayer support for their shot at hosting.
But what should concern the International Olympic Committee even more than general global apathy for hosting rights was having a decisive Games rejection come from, of all places, Calgary.
Calgarians have never suffered from a dare-to-dream deficit and they have an entrepreneurial zest which delivered a profitable 1988 Winter Games backed by a legacy fund to keep the sports venues from becoming a taxpayer burden.
I was Olympic bureau chief for the Calgary Herald in 1988 and can testify this was a city where euphoria reigned for 16 glorious days, even as tropical temperatures played havoc with snow and ice and freak athletes like ski-jumper Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican bobsled team stole the show.
If the IOC can’t win over Calgarians to host a city-defining event with venues largely in place, the pool of future Olympic bidders is going to morph into a puddle and might evaporate altogether.
The reason for Calgary’s rejection was simply a numbers game. While the math seemed to work in Calgary’s favor with more than $2 billion in federal and provincial support, bid budgets never survive the delivery process. After the IOC takes the first cut of the revenue, any surplus or, more likely, any deficit accrues to local taxpayers.
Beyond being a jolt for the IOC, perhaps there’s a Canada-wide caution to be seen in Calgary’s refusal to perform an Olympic encore on the world stage.
This thumbs down from the unlikeliest of naysayers points to the end of grandiose multi-billion-dollar government celebrations of sport or national pride.
If the choice is between city hospitals or global hospitality, local wins every time.
Pragmatic taxpayers just aren’t into playing games anymore.
That’s the Last Word.