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Calgary should not pursue an Olympic bid

By Barrett Schultz, September 29, 2017 —

Whether it be a new hockey arena or the potential 2026 Olympic bid, Calgary is buzzing with talk of sports infrastructure. The 1988 Games happened a lifetime ago and it feels like the city has waited long enough for a new Olympic bid. On the surface, it’s fun, exciting and flashy. But should the city pursue a bid?

From both a fiscal and moral standpoint, Calgary hosting another Olympics is the wrong choice. Fiscally, the timing doesn’t make sense. Although the city posted a small surplus in 2016, the province’s financial documents tell a very different story. With Alberta still reeling from a slump in the oil and gas sector with little sign of recovery, it’s ludicrous to consider a project that costs $4.6 billion, especially when the project is largely for entertainment. On top of that, $2.6 billion of the proposed budget is made up of public funds. With property taxes skyrocketing across the city, this allocation of taxpayer funds would be irresponsible.

City council has already spent $5 million establishing the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee. The CBEC spent the first half of 2017 looking into the feasibility of hosting the 2026 games and released a final report over the summer. The report found that although the Games may be “feasible,” they were not “prudent.” This is not a convincing case for an Olympic bid.

With a projected revenue of only $2.2 billion, the project entails over $2 billion in lost funding to cover the shortfall. Some argue that the new infrastructure will serve Calgarians long after the two-week party comes and goes. While this is true, the proposed infrastructure brings ongoing operating and maintenance costs, and this should not be overlooked. The continued public benefits of these new facilities do not justify the costs that accompany the bid. Projects like the Green line would be a better use of these funds.

We also run the risk of following in the footsteps of cities like London, where Olympic infrastructure sits barely used. The Olympic Oval and Canada Olympic Park are still in use and do not need billions of dollars worth of upgrades. The Oval isn’t falling apart and any upgrade costs that COP needs will surely cost much less than $4.6 billion. Calgary and its citizens may want new recreation buildings but they certainly do not need them.   

Calgary should have reservations about attaching themselves to anything related to the International Olympic Committee. The Olympic bids of Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney and Salt Lake City have all been shrouded in discussions over possible bribes made to IOC committee members leading to winning bids. As French officials investigate the Rio games, the IOC has become a broken record of apologies and reassurances of their commitment to more ethical practices.

Calgary must set an example, and not just in regards to bribery scandals. Looking back at recent Olympic games in Sochi and Rio reveals severe human rights abuses in the lead-up to the Games. There were statements released about atrocities like police brutality and forced evictions committed against already marginalized populations in Rio. Instead of addressing these issues, the government put on the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, Brazil is not an outlier. Similar accusations were heard from LGBTQ rights activists in Sochi before the 2014 games. By bidding on the Olympics, Calgary implicitly accepts these atrocities while allowing itself to be placed into the same category as these cities. It is Calgary’s chance to take a stand.

While the Olympics could provide a world stage for Calgary to display its impressive infrastructure, dazzling ceremonies and generous hospitality, it also gives the city the opportunity to stand up in other ways.

We have a chance to showcase ourselves as a city that does not overlook heinous acts for selfish gains. We have the chance to stand up against corruption and unjust actions. Personally, I would be much happier to say I was from Calgary, the city that advocated for human rights, rather than from the Calgary that has a shiny new ice-skating rink.  

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