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HomeBusinessWhistler mayor says costs of hosting Olympic events in 2026 are unknown

Whistler mayor says costs of hosting Olympic events in 2026 are unknown


Bob Mackin

Whistler’s outgoing Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said it will be up to the ski resort’s next municipal council to decide whether to let citizens vote on being part of Calgary’s $5.2 billion bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

But, it won’t matter if Calgarians vote “no” in their Nov. 13 plebiscite.

Calgary 2026 Bid Corporation’s draft hosting plan was published Sept. 11, and it proposes ski jumping and nordic combined be held in the Whistler Olympic Park at the Callaghan Valley, with accommodation at the Whistler Athletes’ Centre. Both are legacies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and operated by Whistler Sport Legacies, a taxpayer-funded spinoff of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic organizing committee, also known as VANOC.

Whistler’s outgoing mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden (RMOW)

The Calgary bid document estimates it would save $50 million by using the Whistler venues instead of the venue constructed for the 1988 Games, but it does not show how it made the estimate.

“It just makes so much sense that if you’re going to host the Winter Games that you make use of facilities that are already in existence,” Wilhelm-Morden said. “I’m so pleased to see the IOC go down that road instead of building these facilities around the world that are under-utilized.”

However, Wilhelm-Morden emphasized, the costs to taxpayers in Whistler and other Sea-to-Sky municipalities are unknown.

“We’ve been kept apprised of the process and, of course, the decision Calgary council just made [for the plebiscite], but we haven’t had any conversations among our council about this idea, we haven’t considered or passed any resolutions,” she said. “No nuts and bolts about the budget.”

Wilhelm-Morden said the Resort Municipality of Whistler is expecting the Calgary bid corporation, which includes former VANOC executive vice-president Terry Wright, to make a presentation at a city council meeting. A new mayor and council will be elected Oct. 20 in Whistler.

“Questions in connection with costs, with security, with transportation and so on, which the community will want good detail about in order to provide meaningful responses,” she said. “Whether we have a plebiscite or referendum is a separate question. We haven’t had any discussions about that.” 

Calgary’s plan estimates 155 athletes and 104 team officials, for a total 259, would be accommodated in Whistler. The nordic venue would need “minor” renovations, including upgrades to the ski jump in-run and refrigeration, cross-country ski trails and utilities. The rest of the nordic sports would be held closer to Calgary, in Canmore, Alta.

Transportation and security considerations would extend well beyond Whistler, however. Vancouver International Airport is identified in the book as “first port of entry for many accredited clients,” which includes athletes, officials, sponsors and media. A retail store for Games products would be in “Whistler/Vancouver,” as would a ticket box office.

For Vancouver 2010, 11,000 tickets were distributed for nordic combined, while 28,000 went for ski jumping. 

Chris Shaw, a Vancouver scientist who led the No Games 2010 Coalition, cast doubted over the bid corporation’s estimates.

So Calgary is hoping that we will take some of the financial costs off of them? Nice, thanks for everything, Alberta,” Shaw said. “And, the Whistler angle easily doubles the security costs, hence the budget as proposed is completely inaccurate.”

Calgary’s bidders estimate the Games would cost $5.2 billion, including more than $3 billion from taxpayers. The Sept. 11 document estimates the Games organization would spend $685 million for security by 2026. The Vancouver 2010 Games, however, had a $900 million security bill.

The International Olympic Committee will choose the 2026 Games host when it meets in Milan, Italy, Sept. 11-15, 2019. A joint bid by Milan and Turin could be Calgary’s biggest challenger.

British Columbia’s auditor general never did a post-Games audit, but media outlets have long estimated it cost between $7 billion and $8 billion to stage and host the 2010 Games, including the Canada Line rapid transit and Sea-to-Sky Highway improvement.

Financial records and board minutes remain hidden from the public at the Vancouver Archives, as per the agreement between VANOC and City of Vancouver. Not until 2025 is the public scheduled to finally get a chance to peek at organizing committee board minutes, to learn more about the costs and complexities of the Olympics held in the wake of the Great Recession.

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