Opinion Column

Hosting the Olympics nothing but a headache

By Josh Aldrich, Camrose Canadian

The Olympic torch displayed outside chambers as the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee delivered its 5,400-page report to City Council Monday on Sunday July 23, 2017. Postmedia Network

The Olympic torch displayed outside chambers as the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee delivered its 5,400-page report to City Council Monday on Sunday July 23, 2017. Postmedia Network

There are few things that will whip up nationalistic fervour and pride like hosting an Olympic games, but until fiscal requirements are lowered, any city that bids for them is dead wrong. 

At the end of July, Calgary was presented with a budget of $4.6 billion as a cost to host the 2028 Olympics. The budget would require $2.4 billion from tax payers, and even then the games are expected to hit a short-fall of $425 million. This is even before accounting for cost overruns that almost assuredly come from putting on every Olympic Games. 

Further, according to a Globe and Mail story on Aug. 4, there is a budget of $391.82 million to complete 14 facilities, 13 of which require an infusion of cash to renovate or build entirely. This does not even count the construction of a brand-new NHL-calibre arena, which the Calgary Flames are pressuring public coffers to fund. Two of the facilities that would receive almost $50 million are privately owned ski resorts in Kananaskis and Lake Louise, while other facilities would be torn down following the games, some reconfigured to something completely different, while more than $70 million would be ear-marked for a ski jump and nordic combined facility that is hardly in demand. There are also questions about who would pay for things like security that ballooned to almost $1 billion for the 2010 winter games in Vancouver. 

I am a sports guy, through and through, and I love the Olympics. But this is asinine.  

Credit goes to the Calgary city council for not approving anything but to continue to explore the feasibility of even putting a bid forward. 

The International Olympic Committee has preached in recent years about the need for restraint in bids, and then put games in Sochi (2014) with an estimated price tag of $50 billion, South Korea (2018) where the cost is expected to exceed $10 billion, Rio (2016) which officially cost $12 billion USD but could end up being much higher. Costs for Tokyo (2020) are already spiraling out of control, and it is anyone's best guess what Beijing will spend in 2022 after they spent $40 billion to host the summer games in 2008. 

So, by some measure, Calgary would be getting a deal at $4.6 billion. But what would be gained by that type of a financial commitment at a time when anything economically is uncertain? 

The 1988 Olympic Games put Calgary and Alberta on the world map. It is still there and continues to be a magnet for tourism due to its proximity to the mountains. The 1988 Olympics also turned Calgary into a top training centre for Canada's winter athletes, and it still is today. There is no need to double down on this. You know what is more cost efficient to maintain this status? Just putting the money into refurbishing the facilities. It could be done at a fraction of the price without paying for renovations to ski hills privately operated by billionaires in the mountains or hundreds of millions of dollars for a new hockey arena for a multi-billion-dollar privately run sports and entertainment group. There would also be no need to spend millions on facilities that would be torn down after the game, reverted back to their previous state or sit there falling into disrepair due to a lack of use. This is without even touching on all of the other costs associated with hosting the Olympics. 

You know what could use $2.4 billion in tax payer money? Hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure projects that will have a guaranteed impact on the long-term betterment of the citizens of Calgary and the rest of Alberta and Canada. 

If the IOC is really interested in making the games purely about the furtherment of the Olympic spirit, then they must stop the game of one-upmanship and insistence that everything must be new and shiny. Focus on regions as opposed to singular cities. Alberta as a whole could host the games without anywhere near the cost for building facilities because they almost all exist, and if they don't they can be built in a place where they make sense and will continue to be used afterwards. 

The IOC can also cough up a little more of their annual multi-billion-dollar revenue stream to the actual hosting of the games as opposed to saddling hosts with immense debt load. 

There is potential for the Olympics to be a positive force as opposed to a two-week party with a generation-long economic hangover. Right now, however, there is not enough asprin in the world to deal with aftermath. 


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