NEWS
06/20/2016 18:51 EDT | Updated 06/21/2017 01:12 EDT

Calgary exploring possible bid for 2026 Winter Olympic Games

Calgary is looking at hosting another Winter Olympics.

City council voted to spend up to $5 million on an exploration committee to study a possible bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

Calgary was the host of the 1988 Winter Olympics.

The Canadian Sport Tourism Authority says it intends to raise private funds to defray the cost of the exploration committee's work.

"What council heard today is it's time. It's time to explore this bid in detail," Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. "What council endorsed today was an opportunity to go forward, spend a little bit of money, gather more data."

The International Olympic Committee will name the winning city for 2026 in 2019.

CSTA chairman Doug Mitchell, a Calgary lawyer and husband of Alberta Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell, says the organization has been working on a bid for two and a half years.

"I think we did a very thorough job to get to this stage," Mitchell said. "Now that we've got approval from city council, we'll look at additional financing for the first five million.

"We wouldn't be doing this if we weren't satisfied that the IOC is going to look at existing facilities and coming back to original cities that have supported and had the Olympics."

1988 venues such as the Olympic Oval, Canmore Nordic Centre, and the sliding track at Canada Olympic Park still host international competition and serve as training centres of national teams. The ski jump at COP, however, is obsolete.

Calgary's 1988 legacy and proximity to mountains has kept the city in conversations about another Winter Games bid.

The Canadian Olympic Committee sent query letters earlier this year to seven cities drawing populations over 750,000.

The COC inquired if those cities were interested in, or wanted information about, hosting either the 2026 Winter Games or the 2028 Summer Games. The unidentified cities have until June 30 to respond.

Speculation about a Calgary bid accelerated when other Canadian cities lost interest in becoming host cities. Quebec City said in May it was no longer considering a 2026 bid. 

Toronto Mayor John Tory declared after last summer's Pan American Games that the largest city in the country would not to throw its hat in the ring for the 2024 Summer Games.

When cities dropped out and left only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, competing for the 2022 Winter Games, the IOC adopted a series of reforms called Agenda 2020 to make bidding for an Olympic Games less expensive.

"If we find out if 2020 is not going to be enacted like we think it is, we're not going to stay the course," Mitchell said.

The organizing committee for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., said those Games cost $188 billion to stage and that VANOC "broke even." The cost of bid was $34 million.

The drop in oil prices has hit the Alberta economy hard, but Calgary councillor Richard Pootmans pointed out Calgary was in a deep recession when it bid in 1981 for the 1988 Winter Games.

"The city was looking for projects to inspire them, was looking for projects to help stimulate the economy," he said prior to council debate.

"This is almost exactly the same circumstance. We have a troubled economy at the moment. Why not have an inspiring large project to re-energize the city?"

Important elements of a Winter Games bid is a modern stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies and a hockey arena. Scotiabank Saddledome was built in 1983 and McMahon Stadium in 1960.

The Calgary Flames have pitched an $890-million arena/stadium/fieldhouse project to city council with taxpayers covering $200 million of it. 

A city report pegged the project's bill at $1.8 billion, however. Council asked the Flames to look at other locations and options to bring down costs.

Flames Sports and Entertainment president Ken King has said their project isn't tied to an Olympic bid because of a bid's long timeline and uncertainty.

The Flames want shovels in the ground sooner than 2019.

"Our project is a bonus to a bid as opposed to a bid necessarily being a bonus to our project," King said after a city council meeting in April.

"That bid will take years to prepare if it even materializes. The likelihood of success is pretty broad."

The 2018 Winter Games are in Pyeongchang, South Korea, followed by the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.