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Olympic debate will simmer in Calgary over the summer months

A plebiscite on Calgary hosting the winter Olympics is now just months away, and the camps for and against the event are coming together to make their arguments.

On the ‘no’ side, a group known as No Calgary Olympics has been trying to spread its message through social media and emails.

Erin Waite said she got involved with the group because of her ethical concerns with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), but she said many other members are more concerned about the financial cost of hosting.

“It really is the whole style of the (IOC) – it’s just about the largess of those members and the demands they make on that process,” she said.

The group was started by Daniel Gauld, who began his campaign on social media, and has connected with other like-minded residents who don’t see value in hosting the Olympics.

“For me what’s important is that he’s not trying to be sensational,” said Waite. “He’s wanting quality information.”

She wants to hear more discussion from the city about the risks of hosting, and what other projects the city could be undertaking instead of chasing an Olympic bid.

“Focusing so much time, money and energy on a two-week event in 2026 is really quite frightening,” she said.

The city’s own reports have pegged the cost of an Olympic bid at $4.6 billion, with a large portion of that cost being covered by the provincial and federal governments.

But Waite doesn’t believe that the Olympics are the only way to get money from the other levels of government injected into the economy.

She wonders what would happen if there was a way to instead put that money into the University of Calgary, or tech incubation programs.

“I don’t know if those are the right things to do, and I don’t know who the decider is, but where the discussion about those things?” she asked. “Why is it suddenly just the Olympics?”

While some like Waite are risk-averse, others like David Legg look at the Olympics and see opportunity.

Legg, head of Health and Physical Education at Mount Royal University and past president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee said his approval of the bid comes with some “buts.”

“It’s similar to going to purchasing a new car,” he said. “I would like a new car, but I don’t want to necessarily pay sticker price for it.”

Legg believes that a bid would be one of the better ways to get funding from the other levels of government, and he thinks Calgary’s plan to refurbish venues from the 1988 Olympics means we can do it for less.

What the exact number would be is uncertain, and he’s ok with that.

“It’s a massive, massive undertaking, so to predict what the costs are going to be in eight years is difficult at best,” said Legge, adding, “We’re Calgarians. That’s what we do. We take risks – we looks for the possibilities and we make judgments.”

He looks to cities that got it right – Tokyo in 1964 or Barcelona in 1992 – which used the opportunity to re-imagine those cities and he thinks Calgary can do the same if it has a big event such as the Olympics to rally around.

Legg takes umbrage with the no side because he feels they primarily make financial arguments. He said many of the best things in life – raising children or having pets – don’t make perfect economic sense.

“I see the upside of hosting the games far more than just focusing on the outright cost,” he said.