IOC Greed Has Given Calgary Leverage In Its Bid For the 2026 Winter Games
A while back, broadcaster Bryant Gumbel groused that he never watches the Winter Olympics. Gumbel, who is black, reasoned that because there was little or no representation from Africa or other warm parts of the planet, who wanted to see a white Olympics with just half the nations of the world represented?
The wonderful human stories emerging from the Winter Games in South Korea about Mark McMorris and Canada’s figure skaters mock Gumbel’s race-centric bias against the spectacle of cold-weather sports. But that’s modern-day grievance politics.
(Ironically, Gumbel was recently informed by historian Louis Gates on a PBS program that his heritage is seven percent Ashkenazi Jew. So maybe Mr. Gumbel had a change of heart about his stake in the Games. Although why we should care is a better question.)
Race-baiting aside, the Winter Olympics are a different deal from their Summer cousins. There are, pace Gumbel, far fewer nations represented and events staged. Yes, they represent a lot of the white cultures of the world, although a look at the current French figure skating team might suggest that even that image is fading.
It’s a wholesome, inspiring image that many advertisers, politicians and city booster alike should want to be associated with.
Yet, the Winter Games are proving a tough sell for the International Olympic Committee. Despite their leaner size, the Winter Games are still an enormous financial burden for the city (or region) that stages them. Committing to the infrastructure, organizing staff and now, most crucially, security concerns have exploded the cost for hopeful cities.
The outrageously expensive Summer Games are now only the purview of super-cities like Paris, London, Los Angeles or Tokyo. While not as costly, the Winter Games are also stretching budgets to where the only cities willing to host are repeat venues like Innsbruck or Calgary— who have facilities in place— or totalitarian regimes looking to make a political statement.
Where once you’d have as many as 10 or 12 cities making application, the IOC is finding that the 2026 Winter Games have only a few maybes and non- committed cities in the pipeline. No absolutely ins.
This is the fault of the IOC which has driven one-sided deals that bankrupted or seriously injured cities financially. Nagano, Athens and Sochi are but a few of the ghost cities when it comes to how the cost never equalled the benefits.
Which brings us to the Calgary exploratory bid for the Games. At the moment, there is a local committee examining the costs and trying to work out a commitment with the city to make a formal IOC bid— as it did when Calgary won the 1988 Games. Which have left a rich legacy in facilities and funds that enrich the community to this day.
In the past, the IOC has preferred first-time cities as host for the variety they brought. But they also liked the newbies because they had little to no idea how to organize such a huge operation. As such they were very dependent on the IOC and its caravan of consultants and contractors who get a pay day from doing their work.
With virtually no other credible options in the 2026 pipeline, the IOC now realize they have to be more flexible in dealing with cities. An IOC panel recently visited the city to hear the complaints and comments of the people on the Calgary exploratory bid committee. To lighten the burden on Calgary, there was talk of farming out certain events to Whistler (for skiing) or Edmonton (for hockey).
There are still benefits for Calgary if it decides to take the leap. The TV/ digital rights money they draw is still significant, even when the top events are happening in the middle of the night North American time. The subsidiary benefits to a city’s infrastructure can be huge. Calgary for instance, still has no plans for a new arena for the Flames or stadium for the Stampeders, but the Olympics could be a springboard for those projects.
Against these benefits are arrayed the (often legitimate) complaints about spending on circuses when there’s not enough bread to go around. The IOC has sown much bad will over time, and these critics are only too willing to recount it chapter and verse in any discussion about finding a bid.
There should be some clarity from Calgary soon (there remains strong opposition on city council). With. the leverage they possess the city could still get a friendly deal from the IOC. A city-friendly deal would be a revelation from the not-so-merry merchants of the five rings. Who knows, by the time 2026 rolls around in Calgary, even Bryant Gumbel might start liking the Winter Games.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)