Urban Compass Calgary
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The Olympics need Calgary more than we need them
The city has grown up while IOC has fallen into corruption
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In the 1980s, as a medium-sized city, Calgary needed the Olympics to boost its stature in the world. Today, it’s the other way around.
After years of corruption scandals, host city budget overruns and questionable locations, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) needs willing cities to give the Games a dose of credibility.
It’s important to keep that in mind as Calgary investigates the possibility of a 2026 Winter Olympics bid.
The most recent Winter Games were held at a Russian subtropical beach resort, remember, where the many infrastructure deficiencies gave rise to the hashtag #SochiProblems.
We are a winter city with a stellar track record of hosting the Games, as local bid boosters are quick to point out. But the city and the Olympics have both changed significantly since 1988, with the Games becoming vastly more expensive to host.
Calgary, meanwhile, has come into its own. We’ve found a good groove.
Look at the Peace Bridge, the National Music Centre, the East Village—all evidence of a young frontier municipality finding its big-city feet.
If the Olympics were to come here again, we would be showcasing a different city, a place that has grown up.
And that’s a seductive idea: let’s show this all off.
The Calgary of the 1980s was punching above its weight a little. “Calgary is a sophisticated metropolis renowned for its cosmopolitan atmosphere,” was what local Olympic organizers told international media.
Renowned? Maybe in Red Deer.
At the time, the Calgary Tower and Fort Calgary were considered top attractions. The Saddledome was an architectural showpiece.
Still, wooing the Olympics back then worked wonders. As anyone who went through 1988 can tell you, those Games were transformative for Calgary’s civic identity.
That’s something we can all celebrate and remember. But Calgary has less to prove today than we did in the 1980s—and that’s a good thing.
The IOC, meanwhile, lugs around toxic baggage as it looks for someone to take it in.
Coun. Druh Farrell put it bluntly at council last week: “It’s a deeply, deeply corrupt organization.”
It’s good to acknowledge that out front. Rather than coming at a possible bid from a place of insecure neediness, city council should come at it from a place of confidence, wary of getting into a bad relationship.
Skepticism is better than fuzzy-eyed nostalgia.
Not that there’s anything wrong with nostalgia. The city could always arrange a screening of Cool Runnings at Olympic Plaza for those who want to relive 1988 yet again.
As it stands, city hall is spending up to $5 million to investigate a bid.
That relatively small investment could pay off if Calgary held another successful Winter Games in 2026.
But it’s more likely that pursuing another Olympic dream would ultimately have more cost than benefit.
Nearly three decades after the ’88 Games, the IOC needs us more than we need them.