Calgary’s mayor says the naysayers have been winning the debate over whether the city should hold the Winter Olympics in 2026.
But Naheed Nenshi says there’s still time to change the narrative before a plebiscite next Tuesday on whether to bid.
Nenshi’s remarks capped off a pro-bid rally which featured a parade of Olympians and a deluge of 1988 nostalgia from Calgary’s first turn at playing host.
British ski-jumper Michael Edwards — better known as Eddie the Eagle — and 1988 mascots Hidy and Howdy made an appearance.
Gold-medal sprinter Donovan Bailey and multi-medal-winning hockey player Cassie Campbell-Pascall spoke of the importance of refurbishing the city’s sports facilities.
Nenshi said the yes camp is on track to lose the plebiscite if it doesn’t get the message out.
“And that power is within every one of our hands,” Nenshi told the crowd Monday, a Team Canada scarf draped over his shoulders.
“For better or worse, we’ve allowed the naysayers to control the narrative. If you look on social media, you probably think 100 per cent of Calgary is opposed to the Olympics. If you listen to the loudest voices, whether they’re politicians or people in line at the Tim Hortons, you’d think everybody hates the Olympics.
“But that’s not true.”
Last week, the bid appeared on the brink of death as the city, the province of Alberta and the federal government wrangled over cost sharing. Nenshi called the week the “grossest” of his political career, but said it led to a great deal.
“What we have is undeniably an outstanding bid and an outstanding deal for Calgary and we’ve got to tell our friends and our neighbours.”
A three-member grassroots group with no advertising money has been trying to push its anti-bid message without the same Olympian star power.
The group’s concerns include the cost, the transparency and ethics of the International Olympic Committee and what it sees as shortcomings in the bid process.
Opposing an Olympic bid isn’t a slight against Calgary, spokeswoman Erin Waite said.
“We’re not doubters about Calgary’s initiative or capacity or enthusiasm for taking on big projects,” she said. “It’s a matter of if it’s the right project now and what won’t we be able to do because we’re choosing the Olympics?”
She pointed to Calgary’s new $245-million Central Library, which opened to much fanfare last week.
“If that were on the books today, we would be choosing between the Olympics and doing a wonderful building like our new library that’s accessible to everybody.”
The bid has an estimated price tag of $5.1 billion. The province has said it would kick in $700 million of that and Ottawa would cover $1.4 billion. The city was asked to contribute $390 million, which includes $20 million for a $200-million insurance policy against cost overruns.
The remainder would be expected to come from ticket sales and other revenues.
University of Alberta professor Stacy Lorenz, who studies the sociology and history of sports, said it’s not surprising bid boosters are tugging at heartstrings by invoking past Olympic glory.
“They are going to have to make an argument for civic pride and national identity, because if you look hard at the economics of it, that is not going to convince people to support the bid.”