Friday, November 16, 2018

Calgary more level-headed than Nenshi in rejecting Olympic bid

The city of Calgary has voted, by a convincing margin of 56% to 44%, to reject Calgary's potential bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics in a city-wide plebiscite.
So, the people have spoken, yada yada, and Calgary will now almost certainly withdraw its bid, becoming the fifth city to start and then withdraw its bid for this particular Games. Now, only Stockholm and Milan remain in the race, and it seems more than possible that Stockholm may well withdraw its bid too, leaving Milan holding the bag, a bag that no-one else seems to want.
Cities (and their populations) have realized that a successful Olympic bid is not necessarily a prize worth having. Costs always overrun, and you have to assume that a low-ball bid like Calgary's is likely to overrun even more. Hosting the Olympics can end up costing the host city a lot of money - it never actually makes money - which may take decades to pay back. So, Calgarians sensibly voted with their heads and not their hearts in the recent plebiscite, unwilling to shoulder the financial risks that an Olympic Games represents.
It's not like Calgary is in the same position it was in back in 1988, the first time it hosted the Winter Games, when it was a largely unknown hick town looking to make its name on the international stage, to "put the city on the map", as the phrase goes. Calgary is already an established regional centre and well-known in the spheres of business and tourism. Why, then, go out on a limb on a risky venture like the Olympics. Neither is the Olympics considered a prize in itself these days: it's image has been irrevocably tarnished by plentiful financial and drug scandals, and it is not the clean, uplifting, feel-good event of yore.
I was, however, a bit disappointed with the reaction of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, a man for whom I normally have a lot of respect. He had put his weight behind the Olympic bid, and was clearly put out that Calgarians rejected his vision. However, he was being disingenuous when he chastised the city for turning away $1.4 billion from the federal government and $0.7 billion from the provincial government, which were part of the city's $5.1 billion total bid.
Nenshi said that this was money that Calgary desperately needs for residential and infrastructure development for the city. But is a major sports event the only way that cities can build affordable housing these days? And what about the inevitable cost overruns that would burden the city for decades as a necessary corollary for winning these government funds, funds which would anyway also be used to build a bunch of sports facilities with very limited after-event usefulness.
No, in this case, the heads of the people of Calgary were more level than that of its Mayor.

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