Calgary’s decision to reject the 2026 Winter Olympic Games is a lost opportunity

The benefits associated with hosting far outweigh the costs, as hefty as they are

Christine Beyleveldt // Editor-in-Chief

The International Olympic Committee has a problem. Nobody wants to host the Games anymore. Calgary voted against putting in a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics on Tuesday night, following Turkey’s withdrawal from the bidding process in October, Japan’s in September, and Switzerland’s and Austria’s in June and July, leaving just Milan and Stockholm in the running. Anyone will say that the cost of hosting an Olympic sporting event is just too much – but Calgary’s loss is a squandered opportunity.

Calgary has the advantage of already having much of the needed sporting infrastructure in place from the 1988 Olympic Games. The Vancouver Olympic Games in 2010 cost $7.7 billion to host, and in 2017, it was estimated that it would cost $4.6 billion to repair the existing infrastructure from the last Calgary Winter Olympics for a Games in 2026.

Let’s go back to 2010 for a moment, because most of us will remember. Nearly 20,000 volunteers stepped up to organize and coordinate the Vancouver Winter Olympics. They acted as tour guides, translated, welcomed athletes and gave directions with a smile and a wave. For a city that is often, and sometimes unfairly, dubbed the “no fun” city, hardly anyone didn’t have a smile on their face during those two weeks, and the cheery atmosphere only cemented Canada’s worldwide reputation for friendliness.

Many didn’t want Vancouver to host an Olympic Games in 2010. Many can’t justify the expense. Expense aside for a moment, we haven’t stopped talking about Alexandre Bilodeau since he won the first gold medal on Canadian soil in 2010. His victory inspired every Canadian athlete competing in those games, and we won a record-shattering number of gold medals. That was the year Canada’s darlings, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, graced the Olympic ice for the first time. Tourists come from all over the world to watch their star athletes compete, and we all feel an invigorating sense of pride in our competitors. Everyone stops to watch the good-natured competition and root for their country, if only for two weeks.

But there’s more to an Olympics than just national pride and two weeks of peace between nations adopted under the Olympic Truce. Vancouver didn’t become a tourist destination because of the Olympics, but the city saw a massive and much-needed upgrade, largely paid for by the provincial and federal governments. The Canada Line was built for the Games. The Vancouver Convention Centre, which now hosts over 500 events every year and will inject $500 million into the economy this year alone, was built for the Games. CBC reported upon the 30th anniversary of the first Canadian Winter Olympic Games this year, that in 1988 the lack of infrastructure propelled Calgary to bid for the Games. And unlike Rio de Janeiro’s Aquatics Centre, which has stood dormant since its single use in 2016, much of Calgary’s sporting infrastructure built for the Games is still used for the same purpose. The International Olympic Committee even supported the idea of using more recently built sporting venues in Whistler.

Pride and generosity are hard to come by, but the Olympic Games offer it aplenty. It brings people together from all over the world, and is a great investment in a city. Great gains only come with great risks, and given that Calgary is just coming out of an economic recession, the Games could’ve brought a renewed energy and the promise of something more to the city.

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