November 1, 2018 / 12:55 AM / 16 days ago

Olympics - Calgary 2026 Games bid still alive after vote

(Reuters) - Calgary’s bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics remained alive after city council voted to proceed on Wednesday but hurdles remain with a Nov. 13 plebiscite still to be cleared.

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

But it was brought back to life when the 15-member council allowed the bid to go forward by one vote.

It was a heart-stopping victory for pro-Olympic backers, with councillors voting 8-7 to end the bid but because the motion was a reconsideration it required 10 votes to kill.

The western Canadian city, which hosted the Olympics in 1988, will now hold a non-binding plebiscite on Nov. 13 which will decide the bid’s fate.

The vote keeps three candidate cities in the running to host the 2026 Winter Games with Calgary, Stockholm and an Italian bid involving Cortina D’Ampezzo and Milan.

The IOC will elect the winning bid in June, 2019 at its session in Lausanne.

The vote ended a day of heated and acrimonious debate as councillors grilled the board chair of the Calgary 2026 Bid Corporation, Scott Hutcheson, and CEO Mary Moran.

With a lively group of bid supporters, many wearing red and white Canada sweaters, packing the council chambers, Hutcheson and Moran stood their ground against combative councillors urging them to let Calgarians decide the bid’s fate in a plebiscite.

REVAMPED FUNDING

“We told Calgarians that it would be their decision, because that’s what you told us to tell them,” said Moran.

Late on Tuesday the bid corporation sent out a letter saying that the federal and provincial governments had reached an 11th hour agreement to consider a revamped funding proposal that had threatened to scuttle the bid.

The letter, signed by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, federal Minister of Sport Kirsty Duncan, outlined a revised Games concept with a total public funding request of $2.875 billion.

The Calgary 2026 Olympic bid corporation has estimated the cost to host the Games at C$5.23 billion ($3.98 billion), with the original plan calling for C$3 billion of that amount coming from the public purse.

Under the new proposal the Government of Canada’s contribution would be C$1.423 billion down from C$1.5 billion matching the amounts committed by the province and city.

The Alberta government’s contribution would remain the same at $700 million.

Calgary would throw in C$370 million in cash, a $200 million in insurance redemption which would cover a “defined contingency” and along with the Alberta government C$150 million in pre-authorised improvements to Victoria Park and access to the Calgary Stampede grounds.

“It would be great to host the Olympics in Canada,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a Parliament Hill scrum. “But obviously the ultimate decision is up to Calgarians and Albertans themselves.

“We are happy to have an opportunity to showcase Canada to the world.”

The vote no doubt was greeted with relief by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after watching city after city pull out of the running.

Calgary, Stockholm and Cortina D’Ampezzo/Milan are the last of seven initial candidates, with Swiss city Sion, Japan’s Sapporo and Graz in Austria pulling out in recent months, scared off by the cost and size as well as local opposition.

Turkey’s Erzurum was eliminated from the final bidding process by the IOC earlier this month.

Italy twice launched bids with Rome for the 2020 and the 2024 Summer Games before pulling out midway through the process and the 2026 bid does not yet enjoy full government backing.

The Swedish bid has also yet to get full backing from the country’s main political parties.

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond

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