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Calgary 2026 Olympic bid in peril after public say 'No'

3 min

Ottawa (AFP)

Calgary's bid to stage the 2026 Winter Olympics suffered a crushing blow on Tuesday as residents of the Canadian city voted overwhelmingly against hosting the games, early results showed.

In what is almost certain to represent the death knell for Calgary's bid, voters in a referendum came out 56.4% to 43.6% against bringing the games back to the city, 30 years after it staged the 1988 Winter Olympics.

An unofficial tally of 304,774 ballots released by the City of Calgary showed 171,750 voting against staging the Games, with 132,832 in favour.

The referendum result came after frenzied campaigning which saw pro-bid campaigners fail to convince Calgary residents that the city should foot a Can$390 million ($295 million US) chunk of the bill for hosting the event.

Provincial chiefs in Alberta had already warned they would withdraw a Can$700 million funding commitment if Calgary residents voted against the Olympics.

Bid officials said bringing the Olympics back to Calgary would provide an economic boost to the city while giving it a chance to shine under a global spotlight.

But opponents cast doubt on the projected revenues from the Games, fearing massive cost overruns, higher property taxes and less funding for other municipal projects.

Calgary, heavily reliant on the oil sector, has faced difficult economic times recently, with low prices for Canadian oil and delays in constructing pipelines to get it to new markets overseas.

The issue of whether to host the Games has gripped the city for the past two years.

The rejection of the Olympics by Calgary's public also reflects a global trend against staging the games in recent years.

In the race for the 2026 Olympics, the Swiss city of Sion and an Austrian bid based at Graz have already withdrawn, citing lack of either public or political support.

Several other cities also walked away from the race for the 2022 Winter Olympics amid public opposition.

An eventual Calgary withdrawal will leave only Milan and Stockholm in the running when the host city is announced in June in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Ahead of the vote, Mayor Naheed Nenshi urged locals to support the bid, saying Calgary would get back 10 times more in investment or about Can$4 billion, than it puts into the bid.

"I'm voting yes because I believe Calgary can host the cleanest, most cost effective games in history. Let's dream big and vote yes," he said in a Twitter message.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail newspaper, Nenshi downplayed concerns of possible cost overruns, saying the city's proposal could be scaled back easily to reduce costs if needed, as it is planning to build only two new venues while upgrading 11 existing sites.

However supporters of the bid had met with a wall of resistance from well-organised "No" campaigners.

Local media had also voiced opposition, with the Calgary Sun newspaper rejecting the bid as a misguided attempt to recreate the feelgood factor from the city's successful 1988 Olympics.

"We remember 1988 fondly but understand that was a special moment in time that will never be recaptured," the paper argued.

"Trying to recreate magical memories is a mug's game."

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