November 12, 2018 / 9:20 PM / a month ago

Olympics: Calgary 2026 Winter Games bid plebiscite too close to call

(Reuters) - The plebiscite on the troubled Calgary 2026 Winter Olympics bid on Tuesday will be a tight race but if the Canadian city survives the vote it could go on to land the Games, bid CEO Mary Moran said.

The citizens of Calgary will vote on whether the bid to host the Games should go ahead, as concerns over cost and size of the event have scared off other cities.

Sweden’s Stockholm and an Italian candidacy involving Milan and Cortina D’Ampezzo are the only other two bidders left in the race, and they too face their share of problems after Swiss city Sion, Japan’s Sapporo and Graz in Austria all pulled out.

Last month Turkey’s Erzurum was eliminated from the bidding process by the International Olympic Committee, which will elect the winning bid in June 2019.

“I am not great at predicting polls. It will be very tight and we are hoping for a strong turnout,” Moran told Reuters in a telephone interview on Monday.

“I think what we have seen over the last few days is that there has been this massive momentum. It really depends if that momentum continues.

“I would say I am pretty comfortable more people are seeing the long-term vision,” said Moran, who took over as CEO in August.

The bid had appeared dead late last month after Calgary’s Olympic assessment committee recommended the city scrap plans over a funding row with the Canadian federal government.

It was brought back to life when the 15-member council allowed the bid to go forward by one vote, but anything below 50 percent in the non-binding plebiscite would essentially mean the end of the candidacy.

GAMES V HOUSING

Supporters of the bid believe the city would see a healthy return on any investment, while those opposed to hosting the Games feel it would be more beneficial to spend the money on public housing and environmental protection.

Organizers behind the opposition group ‘No Calgary Olympics’, say residents should be aware of any potential pitfalls with regards to any Games-related spending, particularly if political attitudes change after upcoming provincial and federal elections.

“I am an optimist by nature and I don’t spend a lot of time looking in the rear view mirror,” Moran said of the problems the bid has faced.”

“The reality is they (citizens of Calgary) love the concept of hosting the Games and we are confident if we get through the plebiscite we can win.”

The Canadian city, which also hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, has some 85 percent of venues in place, with two yet to be built.

But opponents to the bid argue the multi-billion dollar investment needed to stage the Games far exceeds the benefits for the local community while the environmental impact is equally negative.

In recent years the IOC has overhauled its process for bidding and hosting the Games to reduce the costs and make them more attractive to future hosts, but that has not stopped the exodus of cities.

Only two cities were left in the race for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing, while many cities dropped out of the 2024 summer Games race for which Paris was picked.

“My first message would be there is not a better time to be aligned with the transitions going on. Although I am very confident we can hold one of the best, if not the best Games, in the world, I understand people are intimidated by fear of future and risk of failure,” Moran said.

“Hopefully we can send a message to the Olympics and Paralympics that this is a community that wants to do this.”

Additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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