TORONTO — Rotating Olympic hosts? A single go-to destination every four years? Maybe dump the bid process altogether?
There are no easy answers for what has become a challenging effort of late: finding interested and qualified suitors to host the Winter Games.
Calgary essentially scuttled plans for a 2026 bid after the ‘no’ side’s plebiscite victory Tuesday. That left Stockholm and Milan-Cortina as the only contenders and both have already had issues with significant hurdles still to clear.
Canada’s previous efforts to host the Winter Games, Calgary in 1988 and Vancouver in 2010, were by and large considered success stories. However, massive cost overruns from other host cities — notably Sochi in 2014 — have helped stoke Olympic hangover worries.
Bid races seem to have been affected. The IOC recently broke from tradition on the Summer Games front by transforming the bid process and instead declaring two hosts (Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028) at the same time.
For the Winter Games, Beijing — not exactly a winter wonderland — beat out a single contender in Almaty, Kazakhstan for the 2022 Games. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen now with 2026.
“The world has changed,” Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith said Wednesday. “I think we’ve seen some (recent) mega-projects that maybe have scared people off a little bit. That is something the IOC has certainly been addressing with this, call it the new norm, or the 2020 Agenda.
“It’s something that I thought Calgary addressed really, really well in their bid. I thought their bid was really responsible. Certainly a (bidder) can do what they want in a bid and include a lot of things that aren’t really necessary but Calgary didn’t do that.”
The Alberta city trumpeted its strong core of venues and infrastructure from ’88 but it wasn’t enough to sway voters. Many athletes expressed their disappointment Wednesday at the plebiscite result and voiced concern about the potential impact.
Gilmore Junio played hockey as a youngster in Calgary before focusing on long-track speedskating.
“If it wasn’t for a facility like the Olympic Oval, who knows if I would have been able to switch over to speedskating and been able to dream big and call myself a two-time Olympian,” he said.
Bobsledder Kaillie Humphries, who trains in Calgary, won Olympic gold in Vancouver and Sochi.
“I’m sad, I feel like it’s a missed opportunity for the city and for the country,” she said from San Diego.
In addition to bid changes, part of the goal of the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 initiative was to rein in costs and increase the appeal for potential host cities. It appears there is still work to be done, particularly on the Winter Games front.
“Bidding, in my opinion, is a total waste of money,” said former IOC member Paul Henderson, who led Toronto’s unsuccessful effort to land the 1996 Summer Games.
The cost of hosting the Games can make local residents skittish, no matter how strong the existing infrastructure might be. The list of sports on the Olympic program also seems to rise with each Games and some venues often have to be built from scratch.
Calgary’s Brady Leman missed the 2010 Olympics due to injury but competed at the 2014 Games and won skicross gold this year in Pyeongchang.
“I definitely think that the Sochi model and a little bit the Korea model is just not a sustainable way to do an Olympics, especially a Winter Olympics,” he said from Vancouver. “You’re going to run out of countries real quick that have the amount of money needed to build (new venues). That’s just not a fair ask for a social system to absorb those kind of costs, I don’t think.”
Remember the hashtag ‘Sochi Problems?’ The many issues and concerns raised during the 2014 Games were succeeded by ghost town-like online images from the venues afterwards.
“It’s really sad to see the things in Sochi just go totally unused,” Leman said. “It’s such a waste and that was something that I struggled with back then as well.
“I think that was such a big problem with the Calgary bid was past countries have taken on these huge infrastructure projects and incurred these massive budget overruns because they were building so many new facilities.”
Smith, meanwhile, remains hopeful that Canada will one day host another Winter Games.
“I think every city is unique and we never try to convince a city to bid,” she said. “It really has to be a grassroots approach and the city has (to have) a vision for themselves which would include a Games.”
Smith added that building on the 1988 legacy, athletes in 2010 put Canada “on the map” in terms of being a top winter sport nation.
Leman agreed and said the Olympic feelings came rushing back while on a recent hike on Cypress Mountain.
“I was walking up beside the run that the skicross was on,” he said. “The parking lot was packed and there was a ton of people taking pictures with the (Olympic) rings still there. I see people all the time in Vancouver all the time taking pictures with the torch down at the waterfront.
“I’ve gotten to use legacy facilities from both those Games. I just think it’s a shame when the Olympics is used for more of a show and less of a lasting impact on the country that hosts it.”
With files from Canadian Press sports reporter Donna Spencer.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press