Calgary now front-runner for 2026 Winter Olympics, says online bid tracker

Lucie Edwardson · CBC News

Stockholm in Sweden, Sapporo in Japan, an Italian city that is due to be named shortly from among three, and the Turkish city of Erzurum, remain in the race with Calgary to host the 2026 Olympics. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Graz, Austria, a main contender for hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics, dropped out of the racelate last week, leaving some wondering if the dwindling pool of candidates puts Calgary in a better position to win the bid.

Earlier this month, a CBC poll found that support for a Calgary Olympic bid was dropping. The poll, conducted by Janet Brown Opinion Research, suggested opposition to the bid sits at 44 per cent, and that 50 per cent of Calgarians support the bid — a seven-point drop since March.

On Monday, Robert Livingstone, producer of Games Bids — an online tracker of Olympic bids — told Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray that Graz dropping out may be a good thing for Calgary’s chances.

A plebiscite expected by the end of the year will be used to decide whether Calgary bids or not.

Livingstone’s ​interview has been condensed for length and clarity.​

Q: What changes now for Calgary, now that we know that Austria has dropped out?

A: Obviously there is one less opponent, and a strong one, too. Last month, Swiss region of Valais dropped out, now Graz, which is paving a smoother path for Calgary should it choose to move forward.

Q: The official release from the Austrian Olympic committee is, “With a heavy heart, we announce we have abandoned the idea of a Graz 2026 Olympic candidature.” Why did they drop out? Were they just unable to sell if locally?

A: That, and politics. An opposition party had petitioned for a referendum, it looked like the referendum was going to happen in September. But even before they could work out plans, there was some dissent in parliament, lots of opposition, and they decided not to move forward. They thought it would get too complicated.

Ayoung girl learns to skate on the ice at the Calgary Olympic Plaza on a warm day in Calgary in this file photo. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Q: This seems to be happening a lot to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), isn’t it?

A: Definitely, even in past years. For the 2022 games, four European bids dropped out, leaving only two to fight it out, Beijing and Almaty [in Kazakhstan]. Beijing will host in 2022. For the summer games, three of five cities dropped out to host in 2024. You know, it’s definitely a trend and the IOC has to deal with that.

Q: How does Calgary fare against that crop?

A: It really depends at who is left at the end, because they all have some challenges ahead. Much as Calgary, they face some local opposition, there are some referendums coming up, they need government support. It’s possible that none of them will be there at the end.

It looks like the only one that is likely to be there at the end is that Turkish city, so the IOC has to be concerned right now, they have to keep those cities in the race.

Q: We’ve long heard that the IOC really wants it to be in North America at least, even in Calgary, largely because they’re hungry for that North American audience. Does that argument still carry weight?

A: Right now, they are just hoping for a Games at all. You know, their preference this time around was going to be Europe. It’s a very Euro-centric organization.

North America was also a good alternative because there will be three consecutive games happening in Asia, so they wanted to bring it back west.

Having said that, Calgary is a great option for the IOC right now. They definitely want to keep Calgary in that race.

Fans cheer and wave flags as the Canadian delegation parades during the opening ceremony of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. (Jonathan Utz/AFP/Getty Images)

Q: And that is in part because they have released documents saying they really want to hold it some place where they’ve held Olympics before, because they don’t want to start from scratch?

They want to see the infrastructure, or a lot of it in place. They want sustainable games, they don’t want cities spending a lot of money. They’ve had bad experiences, obviously, with that in the past. So certainly Calgary fits the bill.

Q: Is it fair to call Calgary the front-runner?

I guess at this point if all the cities remain in the race as they are, for sure, yeah. Stockholm has a good bid, but I don’t see it happening because they just don’t have the political will to move forward.

Q: I ask that because we’ve had polling done here. A CBC poll found that only half of Calgarians support an Olympic bid, just barely over half. Is this the kind of news that would sway public opinion?

A: I think it’s just going to polarize things more, maybe widen the gap. Because those who oppose the bid will point to these other cities that have decided against it and say, “why would we not follow their lead?” And the proponents of the bid will say, “hey, now it’s a better opportunity for us, less opposition, maybe we can spend less, negotiate a better deal.”

So, I don’t know, it’s maybe 50/50 there and causing a deeper divide.

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