By ALLAN MAKI
Saturday, August 18, 2018
CALGARY -- Whistler, B.C., is all but secured. The mountain resort is working on plans to host Olympic ski jumping for the second time as Calgary prepares its bid to host the Winter Games in 2026. Edmonton, whose arena could hold hockey and ice skating events, is not sure it wants to be part of the show, but side-door, closed-door talks continue.
What was once considered detrimental to an Olympic bid - proposing to spread events over multiple cities - is emerging as not just the best but the only path to staging the Games in a way that addresses a major complaint among potential hosts: the massive costs.
That strategy crystallized when Italian Olympic officials endorsed a 2026 bid designed to reuse existing facilities that included the cities of Cortina, Milan and Turin. The proposal reflects the recommendations in the International Olympic Committee's Agenda 2020, which was introduced in 2014 to encourage more cities to bid on the Games by making them less pricey and more efficient to host.
"It's starting to look like there's no alternative," said Dick Pound, a long-time Canadian IOC member and a director with Calgary 2026, adding that the obvious logistical challenges of a multicity bid can be overcome.
"I think the candidates are going to have to spend a fair amount of time figuring out just how easily the communications and transfers can be made. There might be people who just like downhill [skiing] or who just like ski jumping, in which case they may not have to travel much."
The staff at Calgary 2026 are gathering information for its bid book, which will be presented to the IOC on Jan. 11, 2019.
"Everything is on the table," Scott Hutcheson, chair of Calgary 2026, wrote in an e-mail. "And I know when it is complete, we will deliver what is best for our country."
Whistler's facilities may be the only sensible venue for ski jumping and Nordic combined.
The major attraction of using Whistler is the cost saving. Calgary has not used its large skijumping hill for decades, and the price to build a new one would be $100-million. In comparison, the cost of upgrading the Whistler jump would be $5-million, with another $30-million to cover operational and other costs.
Whistler Olympic Park, which is in the Callaghan Valley, has less red tape to slice through than other locations. It operates outside the jurisdiction of the resort's municipal government.
The local council is being kept informed as a key partner on plans and projects, but its approval is not required at the venue, although its co-operation on the athletes' accommodations would be required. The B.C. government is not involved in any of the talks regarding ski jumping, at least not to this point.
Roger Soane, president and CEO of Whistler Sports Legacies, which maintains the ski-jump facility at Whistler Olympic Park, said he has spoken with Calgary organizers, and also discussed security issues with the RCMP's Protective Services. The RCMP has handled security at past Olympics in Canada and for Canadian dignitaries at Olympics abroad.
Mr. Soane is not sure how much security would cost eight years into the future. At $1-billion, the bill for security was the highest individual cost of the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Games.
"There has been a fair amount of planning done," Mr. Soane acknowledges. "We have an agreement in place that is supportive of Calgary's bid and, yeah, just waiting to see what happens."
While participating in 2026 would mean money for ski-jump maintenance and new housing in Whistler, Edmonton might not get much of anything. Calgary officials have had discreet discussions with their Edmonton counterparts. No offer has been put to paper and submitted to Edmonton council, let alone agreed upon.
Calgary is willing to have some men's and women's hockey at the 18,500-seat Rogers Place, since it expects the NHL would be more amenable to letting its players compete in a North American Olympics, rather than sitting out as they did for the Pyeongchang Games in South Korea.
Calgary lacks a suitable secondary arena after the Scotiabank Saddledome, and the estimated $4.6-billion cost of hosting the Olympics does not include the city's share in funding a proposed new event centre that would be home to the Flames, the Western Hockey League Hitmen and the National Lacrosse League Roughnecks.
Calgary 2026 also wants to involve Edmonton as much as possible to ensure the Olympic bid draws full financial support from the provincial government.
"Once upon a time, I don't think Edmonton would have wanted to help Calgary. At one point in time, Calgary wouldn't have hosted a Games if it had to rely on Edmonton," said University of Alberta professor Dan Mason, who consulted for the City of Edmonton in its negotiations to construct Rogers Place arena in the downtown core.
"If [Calgary] wants to have the Games, if the only way we can have the Games is to partner with Whistler and Edmonton, then I think the business and political leaders would be willing to do that."
None of this means a shared Winter Olympics would be hassle-free.
Transportation for athletes, and spectators wanting to attend events in more than one place would require additional flights, bus routes, and rental vehicles.
Accommodations are needed.
Athletes' Villages must be designated or constructed to house and feed competitors. Separate international broadcasting and press centres must be built. Then there are the increased security costs for watching over athletes and facilities, airports and public gathering places in multiple locations.
"There's a difference between moving between three cities in Italy and three cities in Western Canada," said Moshe Lander, a professor at the University of Concordia who has researched the economics of sport.
"Geographically, it's not close.
At least Italy has presented this as 'we're going to do this as a tri-city bid.' Their initial intent was to do it that way. Now Calgary's intention is, 'I don't know how we're going to do it otherwise.' "A key concern to hosting a spread-out Olympics is not spreading them out too far and ruining the Games' unique vibe. In 1992, the Albertville Winter Olympics were so stretched through the Savoie region of the French Alps that it felt like a collection of World Cup events - nice, but nothing special.
It's something Calgary is being advised not to ignore as it works at giving its bid an appealing sense of purpose - a key factor in winning a bid at the IOC.
"The reason that Chicago failed for 2016: It didn't have a story," Mr Pound said.
"Nobody knew why they were doing it. The contrasting one was London beating Paris [for the 2012 Summer Games]. It had a story why London would be good for the Olympics and for youth that resonated. The aspirational aspect of it was there and I don't think we [at Calgary 2026] have our hands around that particular bowl of Jell-O."
A skier prepares to launch off the jump in Whistler, B.C. The structure, built for the 2010 Olympics, could be used for jumping events if Calgary's bid for the 2026 Olympics is successful.
JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS