By Stephen Hunt
The Calgary Herald ran three terrific opinion pieces this weekend on the Olympic bid. One, by George Brookman, recalled 1988 and reminded readers that back in the early 1980’s, when that bid was hatched, the city was in as big of a funk then as it is now.
George also reminded readers that when Guy Weadick pitched Calgary business leaders in 1912 his idea of celebrating western and Indigenous culture in a big summer festival and calling it the Calgary Stampede, it took some convincing — and that turned out pretty well, at least after a two or three year hiatus when Weadick tried relocating the Stampede to Winnipeg turned out not so hot.
Another by Mount Royal University’s David Finch and a colleague, MRU fellow Norm O’Reilly broke down the four inconvenient truths about how a lot of people think about Olympic bids, which included pointing out that summer and winter games are completely different beasts, and that there is no point shouting “Rio!” or “Athens!” when trying to warn taxpayers of the looming financial disaster lurking under those five rings.
The third, by John Simpson, was about how it’s time for the city’s leaders to step forward and kick this bid into gear.
What caught my eye was something Simpson tacked on, right at the end, as a bullet point list of things our leaders should be advocating for.
“A vision of what Calgary might need 50 years away,” he writes, “and how hosting the Winter Olympics every 16 years can assist with such a plan.”
All of which echoed a thought I had the other day, walking home down Stephen Avenue after a breakfast hour event at Arts Commons that drew a small, but creative, and enthusiastic crowd to talk about the cultural community’s role in a bid.
More about culture later.
But what I thought, after listening to Calgary 2026 culture spokesperson Karen Ball describing Agenda 2020, the IOC’s new rules, which basically reward sustainability and recycling of venues — where they punish you for proposing to build new ones — it became more and more apparent that not only is Calgary an excellent place to host the 2026 Olympics.
It has the venues. It has the time zone. It has winter. It has a legacy. It’s a winter sports powerhouse.
What if the IOC awared Calgary two Olympic Games?
One in 2026, and one in 2042?
You know, the same way sporting goods stores sell you a second pair for 50% off?
If we’re going to go to all this trouble gussying up our city to host the world in eight years, in a world where there are fewer and fewer winter cities, why not Calgary hosting two of the next five Games?
It wouldn’t cost a whole lot more than hosting one. (The 50-day-long event itself basically pays for itself, through IOC contributions, ticket sales and sponsorships).
American TV networks and NHL President-for-Life Gary Bettman could plan accordingly for the next 24 years.
It would reinforce the sales pitch the IOC is trying to convince the world of, namely, that it’s turned a new leaf, valuing host cities that recycle and rehabilitate rather than cities that start from scratch.
And Calgary would get twice as much bang for its bid bucks.
And as for that meeting of the cultural community, it was at its best when facilitator Ken Cameron asked us all to imagine a big dream for the city in 2026.
That led to Arts Commons CEO Johann Zietsman to share his Olympic history — namely, having the opportunity, as a young South African classical musician, to travel to Russia in 1980 and perform with an orchestra comprised of hundreds of musicians from around the world, and what an impact that made on him and what an opportunity it was.
His big hairy dream?
To create a fund so that for the five years leading up to the Games and for the fives years after, Calgary school children could attend any Calgary arts event for free.
“That would impact hundreds of thousands of young Calgarians,” he said, “And after those ten years, of thousands of young people attending arts events, you will have a whole new generation of Calgarians.”
Zietsman was part of the Russian Cultural Olympiad in 1980, but wasn’t part of Calgary 1988. When Calgary 2026 Bid Co CEO Mary Moran rolled the plan out about six weeks ago, in the Engineered Air Theatre of the Arts Commons, Zietsman watched as the pie chart slides on the Power Point explained the numbers, then listened as questions from the audience zeroed in, for the most part, on costs.
Then he said, “I didn’t have the priviledge of being here during the 1988 Olympics, but I have heard from many many Calgarians who were, and who still talk about how it changed this city, and the way we think about it.
“I can appreciate the finances need to be in order for this bid, but don’t underestimate the soft legacies that come from hosting such an event.
“Of all those people who I talked to about 1988, not one mentioned what it cost.
“All they remembered was what the city gained.”