The bidding process for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympics is crawling forward, and when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the shortlist last Thursday, Oct. 4, Calgary was in the final three.
Much has changed since the last time Calgary, Alberta, hosted the Games in 1988 as well as since Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010. The IOC is now in favour of joint bids, re-use of existing facilities and lower costs. These improvements have resulted in more competition for 2026 than for 2022 (which was awarded to Beijing), but each comes with challenges.
The increased interest in 2026 may turn out to be temporary. Sapporo, Japan, ended its bidding process after a major earthquake. Sion, Switzerland, dropped out after losing a referendum, and Graz, Austria, couldn’t get the support of its regional government.
Last Thursday, the IOC announced that Erzurum, Turkey, was out of contention. IOC Vice President Juan Antonio Samaranch, Jr., referenced telecommunications, transport and airports as concerns, but did not mention that there was no sliding centre (for bobsled, luge and skeleton). The Turkish government had previously declined the suggested use of Sochi’s sliding centre, some 650 kilometers away in Russia, which would likely have been unpopular with the IOC as well.
Calgary, Stockholm (Sweden), and Milano/Cortina d’Ampezzo (Italy) are still in the running, each with their own advantages and challenges. While most cost estimates are being disputed by local “experts”, comparing costs between bids remains difficult.
Bid books are to be delivered in January 2019 with a final decision announced in September 2019. The September announcement will be in Lausanne, Switzerland, replacing the originally planned meeting in Milano, as bidding countries are not allowed to host decision meetings.
Many of Calgary’s 1988 Olympic facilities are still in tact, the most visible being the 70- and 90-meter ski jumps. By the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, the standard jump sizes were increased, replacing the 90-meter hill with the HS106 (K95) and adding a larger HS140 (K125) hill. Neither of the existing jumps, slated for closure this month, are suitable for upgrading.
The current proposal from Calgary is to maintain the jumps in Whistler, B.C., to current standards, allowing ski jumping and nordic combined events to be held in Whistler. This would save a great deal of money and avoid the construction of facilities that will get minimal use after the Olympics. The 11-hour drive and one-hour time difference between Calgary and Whistler is the largest separation of the remaining bids. The flying time from Calgary to Vancouver is about 90 minutes, but requires an additional 2 1/2 hours of driving to and from airports. The distance is not viewed as a problem in the IOC’s new vision. This is a big change from the 2010 bid process, when the two-hour drive from Vancouver to Whistler was originally seen as a deal-breaker. The cooperation between Whistler and Calgary makes financial sense for the local organizing committee, but will be difficult to achieve during the current economic battle between Alberta and British Columbia (see “The Alberta/B.C. Conflict” sidebar).
There is an idea that the Olympics should move around the world, and many feel that it is Europe’s turn. Calgary already hosted in 1988 and Vancouver in 2010. Asia has hosted since 2014 with Sochi in 2014, PyeongChang (South Korea) in 2018, and next up Beijing (China) in 2022.
Calgary has the most organized bid, having started the process three years ago.
The city of Calgary’s non-binding plebiscite is scheduled for Nov. 13. Voters will be considering their struggling economy, growing provincial debts, the disputed legacy from 1988, costs, and hitting back at B.C. against the possibility of a better legacy after 2026. While cross-country skiers wouldn’t doubt the value of the Canmore Nordic Centre to North American skiing, not all Calgarians are convinced about the value of hosting the Games.
The IOC is campaigning for Calgary to support the bid.
As a side note, in 2010, most Canadians saw the Vancouver Olympics as a two-hour event. The men’s gold-medal hockey game was what changed those Olympics from ‘disaster’ to ‘best-ever’ status.
The Milano/Torino/Cortina d’Ampezzo bid briefly lost Milano in August before Italy’s differences were resolved. Then, when the national government confirmed that it would not support the bid financially, Torino dropped out, apparently for good. The Lombardy and Veneto regions are expected to provide funding, and considering that the two regions’ combined GDP is larger than Sweden’s, this may not be a problem.
This bid is very spread out, in European terms, with events in Milano, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Val di Fiemme, and Anterselva (“Anterselva” is the official Italian name for what the biathlon world and German-speaking locals call Antholz). Milano has excellent train service and two major airports, making it the most accessible host city. However, the mountain communities are served largely by bus and travel times can be as much as six hours from Milano. Express buses could reduce this to four hours.
Italy’s national political situation is always interesting, with short-lived coalitions running the country most of the time. This bid is dependent on the far more effective regional governments; while Lombardy and Veneto officially represent only 40 percent of Italy’s GDP, their influence is much larger.
Stockholm’s bid is moving along quietly, with Latvia planning housing for its existing sliding centre at Sigulda, 680 kilometers and a ferry ride away from Stockholm. Sweden has most of its facilities in place already and appears to have the least building costs of the candidates. Sweden’s bid currently has no official support from any level of government, which is partially why it’s been less visible. Sweden’s September federal election has added some uncertainty, with the far right making large gains and the prime minister losing a vote of confidence on Sept. 25. It is not clear that a stable coalition will form, which brings more uncertainty to the process of gaining political support and funding.
More on the 2026 candidates
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) asked some experts to rank the three short-listed bids. The result is interesting, more for the reasoning that the ranking.