Montreal, Nov 12 (AFP) Calgary's bid to stage the 2026 Winter Olympics faces a make-or-break referendum on Tuesday, with a sceptical public heads to the polls for a vote likely to determine if the bid can proceed any further.
Thirty years after hosting the 1988 winter sports spectacular, when the likes of British ski-jumper Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards and Jamaica's bobsled team entered Olympic lore, Calgary is hoping to stage the event once more.
But bid officials are facing an uphill battle attempting to convince Calgary's 1.24 million residents that the city should foot a USD 295 million chunk of the bill for hosting the event.
A survey of 243 people conducted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation between October 24 and November 3 found 55 per cent against with only 35% in favour. Ten per cent were undecided.
"I am not fan of hosting the Olympics for the simple reason that it's a risky investment," said Jeanne Milne, of the "No Calgary Olympics" group campaigning against the game.
"We are on the hook for any cost overrun. There are all these claims about all the economic outlooks, but they never really come through. After the Olympics you don't see a bump in reputation, a bump in economics."
That scepticism was shared by the city's Calgary Sun newspaper, which voiced its opposition to the bid in an editorial on November 9, saying nostalgia for 1988 should not be a factor in the decision.
- 'A mug's game' -
"We remember 1988 fondly but understand that was a special moment in time that will never be recaptured," the paper argued.
"Trying to recreate magical memories is a mug's game." If Calgary's public votes against the Olympics, it will be in line with a clear trend which has dogged potential
Olympic bids all over the world in recent years.
In the race for the 2026 Olympics alone, the Swiss city of Sion and an Austrian bid based at Graz have already withdrawn citing lack of either public or political support.
The International Olympic Committee is facing a scarcity of applications for the Winter Games, with many scared off by the US$50billion for the 2014 Sochi Games.
As the last Canadian city to host the Winter Olympics in 2010, Vancouver lost tens of millions of dollars even though the USD 7 billion cost was relatively modest.
Calgary can save on facilities but new construction will still be needed.
Meanwhile, supporters of the bid insist it can make sense for Calgary, which almost quit the 2026 race in early November before a last-minute funding deal was agreed.
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is adamant the city can make the numbers work in its favour.
"The process has been difficult, but is that a good deal? It's an outstanding deal, it brings great investment to the city," Nenshi said.
"It's a very, very different kind of bid. Most of the overrun we have seen in the past came not from running the Games but from building stuff. We are not building very much.
"What we are trying to prove is that we are not going to be Pyeongchang, Sochi or even Vancouver. We can do the Olympics at a much more affordable cost to the taxpayers."
Nenshi meanwhile said Calgary's council would most likely halt the Olympic bid if the referendum came out against the Games, which will be awarded by the IOC in a vote in 2019.
However he noted that even if Calgary voted in favour of the Olympics, the bid might not necessarily proceed.
"At some point after the plebiscite, and I don't know exactly when, council will then vote on whether to continue or suspend," he said. "So if there's a 'No' vote, I imagine that council will vote to stop the work.
"If there's a 'Yes' vote, that doesn't necessarily mean yes at all costs." AFP SSC SSC
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