Cities around the world are rejecting the Olympics with increasing regularity

Nov 15 2018, 5:42 am

And then there were two.

The 2026 Winter Olympics lost another city willing to host on Tuesday. Calgarians voted 56.4% against the bid in a non-binding citywide plebiscite, effectively killing any chance of the Olympics making a second visit to Alberta.

The move would be shocking if it weren’t so commonplace nowadays.

Calgary will become the fifth city this year to withdraw their intention to host the 2026 Olympics, joining Sapporo, Japan; Graz, Austria; Sion, Switzerland; and Erzurum, Turkey.

Just two cities – Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy and Stockholm, Sweden – remain.

It never used to be like this.

Winning the right to host the Olympic Games was once an impossible dream for most cities. The bid process used to be an intense competition, one that often required multiple pursuits.

When Calgary won the right to host the 1988 Olympics, it came after seven failed attempts by Canada to host the Winter Games, including three by Calgary in 1964, 1968, and 1972.

Toronto had its heart broken when it lost to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Canada’s biggest city didn’t even make the top-two for the 1996 Games, finishing behind both Athens and the eventual winner Atlanta.

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When it came to picking the host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, eventually won by Vancouver, the International Olympic Committee had eight cities apply, rejecting four of them.

All four of the cities that were rejected early on in the proceedings had the support of their people, including the 1984 Winter Olympic host city Sarajevo, which had 93.2% in favour of hosting.

Vancouver had relatively low support for the Games by comparison, with just 64% voting in favour of hosting in a 2003 city plebiscite. Bern was the only city to remove itself from consideration.

Hosting the Olympics more than once used to be a deal-breaker, but not anymore. With just two candidate cities remaining for the 2022 Winter Olympics, most observers saw Beijing as the only strong contender. They’ll host the Winter Games just 14 years after welcoming the world for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Following withdrawals of Hamburg, Budapest, and Rome, just two cities were left in the running for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Instead of split-screen drama – filled with elation on one side and crushing disappointment on the other – the IOC decided to award 2024 to Paris and give 2028 to Los Angeles.

olympics la paris

Greg Martin / IOC

While the Olympic Games are still an incredibly popular sporting event for viewers, both in-person and on television, the job of hosting has become too daunting. The estimated cost of the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang is $12.9 billion, and that’s for the Winter Olympics, which are cheaper to run.

Guilty of building too many white elephant sporting venues in Games gone by, the IOC is more willing to make use of existing infrastructure now. They have to. But the Olympics still aren’t cheap, especially when you take into account rising security costs.

The timing wasn’t perfect for Calgary time around, but it makes you wonder. If a city so proud of its Olympic history in a rich country like Canada wants nothing to do with hosting, just how many cities will be capable of bidding going forward?

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