The group pushing for Vancouver to bid for the 2030 Winter Games say their plan to use private sector money to refurbish existing sports venues gives them an edge over Calgary’s 2026 Olympic dream that was quashed by a public plebiscite.
Bringing an Olympics to Vancouver would also boost British Columbia’s economy which has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, said John Furlong, who was head of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), and is part of the group looking at the 2030 Games.
“At some point, governments are going to have to have recovery projects,” said Furlong. “The feeling is that we can really help the community and government . . . coming out of COVID.”
In early November Vancouver city council voted to postpone a decision on whether it wants to explore making a bid for the 2030 Olympics. City staff are expected to present a report to council in early 2021.
WATCH | Furlong tells CBC that Vancouver has tools for 2030 bid:
Furlong didn’t give a cost estimate for upgrading the facilities used for the 2010 Games but said it could be done without government funding.
“We have been working on the idea of submitting a fully sustainable bid, lowering the cost of the bidding process and then staging and extending the facility and sport legacy for decades into the future,” he said. “The current thinking is we will not need government investment in sport facilities and that any minor upgrading that is needed will be covered by games operations which is projected to be private sector funded.
“The goal is to be the first Winter Olympic and Paralympic bid in history to not require new sport infrastructure funded by senior governments.”
Michael Naraine, an assistant professor with Brock University’s department of sport management who studies major games and the Olympic movement, questions if the private sector would become involved in an Olympics without some government insurances.
“We’ve looked at Olympic Games, year after year, and there are always cost overruns,” Naraine said.
“Given the COVID environment . . . I think a lot of private enterprise are going to be skeptical when it comes to getting involved with major projects that they know have a high degree of certainty of having cost overruns.”
Governments also usually pay the tab for costs like security and policing, “line items in particular [that] tend to be under reported when it comes to the final reports that are produced by local organizing committees,” Naraine said.
Calgary, which hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, was planning on bidding for the 2026 Games. The idea was rejected in 2018 by 56.4 per cent of city residents who voted in a plebiscite.
Calgary had ‘significant price tag’
Furlong sees differences between what happened in Calgary and the proposal for Vancouver.
“What they were voting on in Calgary, there was a significant price tag,” he said.
The Calgary Olympic bid had an estimated price tag of $5.1 billion, with the province agreeing to contribute $700 million and Ottawa covering another $1.423 billion through Sport Canada.
The city was asked to contribute $390 million, including $20 million for a $200-million insurance policy against cost overruns.
The Vancouver 2010 Games also faced a plebiscite in February of 2003. About 64 per cent of Vancouver residents casting ballots voted in favour of hosting the Games.
“The view at the time was there was considerable risk and there was financial risk to the city,” said Furlong. “This time though, the idea is to try to find a way for the Olympics to be a sustainable project where we’ve removed or eliminated the vast majority of that risk.”
WATCH | Furlong says IOC ‘enamoured’ with idea of Vancouver 2030:
VANOC’s final fiscal report said the Games broke even, with total revenues and expenses just shy of $1.9 billion. The federal government contributed $74.4 million, the B.C. government $113.4 million and other governments $176 million. The International Olympic Committee kicked in $659 million in sponsorships and contributions to help cover the tab.
Ticket sales raised $269 million, while licensing and merchandising accounted for another $54 million.
The final price tag for the convention centre was $883 million, about $388 million over budget. The SkyTrain’s Canada Line cost $2.1 billion.
Kris Sims, BC director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said any 2030 bid involving public money would likely face calls for a plebiscite.
“If the corporations can cover this, and it doesn’t cost taxpayers money, fine, I’ll be there with my pom poms,” she said. “But if it’s costing taxpayers, I’m like no, we don’t have the money.”
Naraine questioned the public appetite for hosting a Games considering how many people are struggling financially due to COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, I think Vancouver 2030 is going to get shot down because it’s just not the right time, given we’re coming out of the pandemic,” he said.