Tourism Calgary announced on Aug. 30, that Cheryl Bernard and François Poirier have been named co-chairs for the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Calgary 2024 host committee.
Bernard is a silver medal winning Olympic curler, and president and CEO of Canada’s Sport Hall of Fame. Poirier is the president and CEO of TC Energy.
Calgary was chosen as the successful bid for the games in June.
The games will be welcoming 1,300 athletes with intellectual disabilities, along with coaches, support staff, guests, families, and dignitaries to the city.
“For our city, it’s about showcasing the inclusivity that we foster as a city,” said Bernard.
“I think this is allowing us to showcase individuals with intellectual disabilities, and we’re building better communities because of it.”
Bernard said that in a phone call with Poirier about being co-chairs for the Special Olympics committee, there was never any doubt about whether they should take on the role.
“I think we both said, ‘you know, this is the one thing we’ll take on in the next two years, we’ll make it the best it can be, and we know we’ll have the backing of the people of Calgary,'” she said.
“I think we come at this from some really great angles in the community, and we both know it’s going to be a lot of work, but we also talked about how the city has stepped up for everything its ever done.”
This will be the fourth time that Alberta has hosted a Special Olympics Canada National Games. Calgary previously hosted the Special Olympics Alberta Winter Provincial Games in 2019.
‘Magical’ for the host city
Athletes will be competing in eight sports: 5-pin bowling, alpine skiing, cross country skiing, curling, figure skating, floor hockey, snowshoeing and speed skating.
Canada has over 41,000 athletes registered in Special Olympics programs year-round, operating out of local provincial and territorial clubs. Athletes coming to Calgary in 2024 will first be qualifying in regional games.
Bernard said that whether its an Olympics, or a Special Olympics, pretty magical things can happen for a host city.
“We’re going to showcase these individuals and allow them shine, and in the end, if we do that, I think we will be proud of all the work that’s gone into it over the next two years,” she said.
“It’s about creating a legacy in the city, so that we can continue to build on that going forward for individuals that have those disabilities.”
The Canadian Winter Games will be serving as the qualifying event for athletes to represent Team Canada at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in 2025.
Millions in ROI, but true benefits extend beyond economic calculations
Tourism Calgary has currently projected the games to bring in at least $9 million in increased economic impact to the city.
Cindy Ady, CEO of Tourism Calgary, said that calculation is just one part of a bigger tourism story for the city.
“When I look at this event, I think of it as bigger than just ROI. I think of it is an expression of who we are, and where our heart is,” she said.
She said that Calgary as a sporting city has many sporting events, but this was an opportunity to bring in athletes with special needs and show the world we are the the ultimate host city.
“Inclusivity, to me, is a really nice expression of where Calgarians hearts are, and that they’ll have this group and and treat them just as good as if they were that top performing Olympian,” Ady said.
Ady said that the impact that the Special Olympics has on athletes lives is something she has seen first hand. She relayed to LWC a story about a friend of her’s who has down syndrome, and who competed in karate during the summer Special Olympics.
“She talked to me about that for weeks after she got home, and it was just one of those seminal moments in our life,” said Ady.
“So for many of these athletes, this is wonderful. So I’m glad we’re gonna host because I think we’ll do a good job.”
Games one of a series of major tourism milestones for 2024
Special Olympics Canada Winter Games is one of several high profile announcements made in recent months about Calgary’s 2024 tourism outlook.
Among those was the expected time-frame for completion of the BMO Centre Expansion, and the increased capacity for international events.
“We always knew 2024 would be a big year for the city, lots of things would be kind of completing and happening,” said Ady.
She said that even pre-pandemic, Tourism Calgary knew that there would be at least a few years of lead-up time needed, but that was undercut by Covid-19.
“We got to get up and get moving, and 2024 is a year we’re looking to, to ensure that we’ve got the bandwidth for it, because this city is going to spring to life differently than it has prior to the pandemic.”
She said that looming deadline means that the tourism industry has had to work harder to take advantage of opportunities in that shortened time frame.
“It’s the opportunity to really demonstrate your brand, it is the opportunity to take your industry and catapult it to that next decade, and what all its opportunities are, and it begins in ’24.”
“So as much as we’re going to work our hearts out through ’23, we’re looking quite seriously at the year 2024.”