Calgary vote shakes up Winter Olympic bid game again
Does anyone really want to host the Winter Olympics? Residents in Calgary answered that question with a resounding “No,” and now the International Olympic Committee has some soul-searching to do. Again.
After being rejected in yet another public vote, the IOC is down to two candidates to host the 2026 Games — Stockholm, Sweden, and a joint Italian bid from Milan and Cortina D’Ampezzo. Both of those bidders also have issues, and organizers are scrambling to hand the next available Winter Games to one of them before either bid gets derailed. They will award the games in June.
If either of those candidates work out, it will be a victory in that Sweden or Italy will break a string of three straight Winter Games in Asia, two of which — Sochi (2014) and Beijing (2022) — have been run by authoritarian governments that didn’t have to answer to the public for the money.
But that’s not to say Western democracies are falling back in love with the movement. Despite the IOC’s attempts to streamline the bidding process and control the costs of the games, no fewer than eight Western cities and countries have rejected the idea — either through elections or government action — of bankrolling what is increasingly viewed as a bloated, expensive sports festival with little upside for the city that takes them on.
“I think Calgary is another example of a democracy, more specifically, voters in a democracy, deciding that the hosting of the Olympic Games is just not in their best interest — and they have other things to focus on,” said Chris Dempsey, who spearheaded Boston’s opposition to hosting the 2024 Games.
Here’s a look at some people, places and things in the bidding game, and where they stand after Tuesday’s vote:
The nation’s federal government has vowed not to pay a penny after Turin was removed from this multi-city bid. It means regional governments will foot the brunt of the bill. Rome has bailed on two previous bids for the Summer Games, most recently in 2024, which certainly isn’t a comforting thought for the IOC.
Only three days after the IOC put the Swedish capital on its short list of finalists, a newly formed government in the city announced it would not provide funding to host the games. Negotiations are ongoing.
Salt Lake City
They have kept venues intact and, in many cases, improved on them, and there is no significant public opposition. To sum it up, the 2002 hosts could probably hold another Olympics in a few months, if pressed. IOC President Thomas Bach would be wise to award them 2030 right now — that is, only if they don’t want 2026.
The only city to be awarded the Olympics, for 1976, only to turn around and reject them, is officially in the running to be the U.S. candidate for 2030. But it’s not much of a contest. Not helping matters: Colorado’s incoming governor, Jared Polis, recently channeled his inner Richard Lamm — the then-governor-to-be who led the opposition in the 1970s — calling the Olympics “fun things for millionaires and business people” that leave others paying the bill.
The president of the IOC looks more brilliant by the day for his decision to award two Summer Games — 2024 to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles — in one shot at last year’s IOC meeting. Acknowledging there were “too many losers” in the bidding game, he took the only two suitors he had left for the more-expensive, more-grandiose Summer Games and gave them both a victory. He might consider a two-for-one approach for winter, as well.
Bach might be the president, but it would be difficult to find someone who wields more power in the movement than the head of the LA 2028 organizing committee.
He’s had a major role in shaping the new U.S. Olympic Committee, signing off on the hiring of the new CEO and CFO. Because he agreed to take the consolation prize, 2028, in what began as a contest for the 2024 Summer Games, he brokered an advantageous marketing deal with the USOC. And his blessing — and only his blessing — would be crucial to pushing Salt Lake City into the 2026 slot — a move that is currently untenable because of how it would impact the LA marketing arrangement.
The fantastical notion of rotating Olympics between three or four cities — say Sydney, London and Beijing on the summer side, and Salt Lake City, Sochi and Vancouver on the winter side — suddenly doesn’t seem so outlandish. Given the current trend, there’s no guaranteeing any city will want to host this behemoth past 2030.
Dempsey, the Olympic skeptic, concedes the Olympics provide plenty of magic and power, “but that magic and power would be just as strong if there were one winter and one summer location for the Olympics, or some other process that allows you to host the games without making exorbitant promises that lead to exorbitant costs.”
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