Nelson: Hard lessons to be learned from Olympic bid defeat

Nelson: Hard lessons to be learned from Olympic bid defeat
Jay Evensen: Dont bring the Olympics back to Utah
Alberta culture and tourism minister Ricardo Miranda said Calgarians know about the success of the 88 games

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – The Alberta government won’t commit any money to a Calgary Olympic bid after the no side prevailed in Tuesday’s plebiscite.

Alberta culture and tourism minister Ricardo Miranda said Calgarians know about the great success of the 1988 games, but this is a different world.

“Based on the unofficial results for this, I do not believe that the test for community support has been met, our government respects the decision made by a majority of Calgarians,” said Miranda.

The results on the plebiscite won’t be declared official until Friday and council is expected to address the results on Monday.

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Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski has said the citys bid to host another Winter Olympics is ours to lose.

That may not be a popular opinion on a week when the Utah Legislature called a rare joint meeting to welcome officials from the U.S. Olympic Committee who were in town to scope out the leftover venues from the 2002 Winter Games.

The USOC will choose between Salt Lake City and Denver for the chance to bid for the 2030 Winter Games. Thats the headline. The story is a little more nuanced.

The Reno-Tahoe area was under consideration until it dropped out of contention voluntarily. The talk in Denver is that people may want a vote on whether their bid is a good idea. Thats ominous, considering Denver voters rejected the 1976 Games in a vote held 46 years ago.

Calgary held a vote Tuesday about the 2026 Winter Games. Turnout was high, and 56 percent voted no. Thats significant, considering Calgary, like Salt Lake City, has done this before.

But the same could be said for Oslo, Norway, which decided to back out a few years ago because of worries over environmental damage and, most important, costs.

Sion, Switzerland, also backed out. So did Sapporo, Japan, and Graz, Austria. They, too, were in the running for the 2026 Winter Games, which now, by default, are down to either Stockholm, Sweden, or a multi-city bid from Italy.

New York Times sports columnist Michael Powell put it well Monday when he wrote, Hobbled by a reputation for gross expense and corruption, the International Olympic Committee has become a mendicant, shuffling from nation to nation, shaking its cup and asking if anyone might be interested in bidding on the 2026 Winter Games.

Like many people who lived here 16 years ago, I have fond memories of the games. Watching the torch enter the city and make its way to the stadium and seeing all the happy foreigners and the general party atmosphere that enveloped the Wasatch Front felt almost as if the world had declared peace and named this as its capital.

But that was the polished surface of the games. If it were the sum total of the Olympics, and if Utahs decision to maintain its venues from those days would assure a low-cost, worry-free experience, Id be all for it.

The 2016 Summer Games in Rio were rife with corruption, the full extent of which became evident only much later when prosecutors uncovered evidence of bribes. Virtually every bid city talks about holding down costs, but those costs find a way to rise. Sochi spent an estimated $51 billion in 2014, with little, if any, oversight.

That wouldnt happen here, but its naïve to think there wont be unexpected, and perhaps unnecessary, costs. And no one should be convinced the IOC has learned its lesson.

Two years ago, an academic study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives poked holes in many of those popular arguments. Going for the Gold: The Economics of the Olympics, authored by Robert A. Baade of Lake Forest College in Illinois and Victor A. Matheson of College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, drew the overwhelming conclusion that in most cases the Olympics are a money-losing proposition for host cities …

Even though the study says the Salt Lake Games didnt deliver on most of the long-term promises, it did find that Utah saw a large increase in skiing tourism in the years that followed.

Whether another Olympics would generate that same kind of bump is debatable, even though the games represent two weeks of free advertising for the host city.

If Salt Lake City were named as one of a few places that would continually house the games on a rotating basis, I would be all for it. If the last several Olympics had been free of scandal and conducted within strict, austere budgets, I would feel better about another bid.

As it is, however, a lot of reasons exist for feeling queasy about so readily seeking something many other cities are choosing to decline.