Vancouver would be a favourite to win 2030 Winter Olympics: Furlong

Feb 12 2021, 8:07 pm

Much has already been said about convincing ourselves — rallying the public, levels of government, businesses, and organizations — to want to host the 2030 Olympic Winter Games.

It was one year ago, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of Vancouver 2010, that former VANOC CEO John Furlong sparked the visioning process for reactivating the physical legacies and sport hosting experience left behind by the Olympics for a sustainable repeat performance.

Today, on the 11th anniversary of 2010, one year later after last year’s festivities for the decennial, and following nearly a year of being under the weather of COVID-19, the idea of the region staging the 26th Winter Games has further evolved into a rare and timely opportunity to provide Metro Vancouver and British Columbia as a whole with a beacon of hope, and a powerful economic jumpstart for the years-long recovery ahead.

Convincing ourselves always comes as the first major hurdle, but what would it take to overcome the ultimate hurdle of actually winning the rights to host the Games, again?

To date, three other cities, all past Olympic hosts, have expressed some degree of clear interest in hosting the 2030 Games.

Barcelona, which hosted the 1992 Summer Games, showed interest prior to the pandemic, but that has now been put on hold.

Sapporo has been contemplating a bid for the 2030 or 2034 Games, however, any momentum that potential bid previously had is now tempered by the COVID-19 issues surrounding the Tokyo 2020 Games, rescheduled for this summer. Sapporo was the host of the 1972 Winter Games.

There is also clear interest from Salt Lake City, the host of the 2002 Winter Games. But for Salt Lake City, there is the added matter of timing.

A Winter Games staged in February 2030 in Salt Lake City would come just 18 months after the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games. This scenario of a back-to-back Olympics in the United States would present major challenges, as both Games within the same window would compete for the same pool of corporate funding. This could be highly detrimental to their financial plans; the obvious priority would be to protect the Los Angeles Games.

For this reason, Salt Lake City is still in the process of determining whether it should bid for 2030 or 2034.

vancouver 2010 crowds granville street

Crowds on Granville Street after Canada’s Men’s Ice Hockey gold medal win during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. (Hulse & Durrell)

In Canada, the potential conflicts for the road to 2030 appear to be limited.

Canada’s role as one of three host nations for the 2026 FIFA World Cup is certainly not an issue as it is a different beast four years apart.

A year ago, there was a potential conflict from a Hamilton bid for the Commonwealth Games in 2030, but they have since begun a pivot for a bid to land on the 2026 Commonwealth Games. With that said, this direction still requires the support of the Ontario government.

For Hamilton, its motivations for hosting the event four years earlier are two-fold, and not dissimilar to the reasons driving Vancouver 2030. There is the obvious benefit of hosting the Commonwealth Games earlier to reap from the economic benefits sooner during the more immediate pandemic recovery period, and it would have no bid competition, unlike the alternative option in 2030.

At this point, a potential Vancouver bid’s only real contender for the 2030 Winter Games appears to be Salt Lake City. But in addition to the timing issue, the age of Salt Lake City’s sports venues built for the 2002 Games will be a factor.

“For Salt Lake City, their venues are older, and they’d likely have to construct new things to build on what they had in place for 2002,” said Furlong in an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized this week.

“When you look at all the things that could drag a bid down, we don’t have a lot of boxes to tick that say Vancouver does not meet the highest standard.”

He says an initial estimate shows the 2010 sports facilities will still be in “good shape” in 2030, but if the region decided not to pursue the current window and bid 10 years later, significant investments could be required to make the facilities ready for international competition.

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Artistic rendering of McMahon Stadium during the Calgary 2026 Olympic Winter Games. (Calgary 2026 Bid Committee)

The failed Calgary 2026 Winter Games bid was driven in large part by the desire to use the Olympics to renew the aging physical legacies of the 1988 Winter Games. Without the drive the Olympics would have provided, Calgary is now struggling to extend the lifespan of its facilities. For instance, the iconic sliding track (bobsled, luge, and skeleton) at Canada Olympic Park was recently demolished due to disrepair.

“We’d be the first Winter Olympics host city to be able to honestly say we can stage these Games in existing venues and not require capital investment in sport facilities to make the Games possible,” said Furlong.

That leads to the question of what the Olympic bid process looks like these days, which is now considerably different than what Vancouver experienced two decades ago for 2010.

Under ongoing reforms to the bidding process, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) dropped the seven-year timeline of awarding the Games in advance. This was the case for 2028, which was awarded to Los Angeles during the same 2017 IOC Session that also crowned Paris for the 2024 Summer Games. Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Games on July 2, 2003 during the IOC Session held in Prague.

“Everything has changed in the Olympic world. The relationship between the IOC and organizing committees is much tighter, they are more partner-like than client-like. In 2010, we were a client of the IOC, and they were good supporters, funded us well, and helped us when things got difficult,” he said.

“Today, the IOC is trying to help organizations be successful. The financial relationship is healthier, they really want to see Olympics end up financially in the black, and serve as an example to other communities on how to do this.”

vancouver 2010 olympic bid decision event gm place

Then-young former Daily Hive editor-in-chief Farhan Mohamed with his family at GM Place on the morning of July 2, 2003, moments after Vancouver was announced as the 2010 Olympic Winter Games host city. (Farhan Mohamed)

The Vancouver 2010 Bid Committee had a budget of about $34 million, which is within the typical range for a Winter Games bidding process prior to the implementation of the IOC’s leaner, greener, and flexible reforms for both the bidding competition and Games organizing processes starting in 2014. This 2010 bid budget — funded by levels government and the private sector — was used to conduct planning, marketing, stakeholder relations, and IOC pitching.

According to the IOC in July 2020, the average bid committee budget for the two bid cities for 2026 — Milan and Stockholm — was under USD$5 million (CAD$6.4 million). This is an 80% drop compared to the 2022 bids, effectively reducing the financial risk to prospective cities.

Beyond the bid, while zero-to-minimal capital investments would be required for the sport facilities, there would still be costs associated for security and the Olympic Villages to house athletes and officials. Such new residential developments in Vancouver and Whistler could be motivated by a post-Games conversion into much-needed affordable housing.

Another direct Olympic cost would be the operating budget for the local organizing committee (OCOG). The operating budget specifically covers the cost of creating thousands of jobs, and supporting areas such as marketing, sports venue operations, technology requirements, athlete and media services, logistics, transportation, and cultural components, including the torch relay and ceremonies.

Furlong estimates the OCOG budget for 2030 will be roughly USD$2.2 billion (CAD$2.8 billion), comparable to Calgary 2026’s estimates, but this time around it could be entirely funded by private sources, including the IOC’s funding from TOP international sponsors (e.g. Coca Cola, Visa, GE, Samsung, etc.) and television broadcast rights, domestic sponsors secured by the OCOG, and ticketing. This private sector approach is also being carried out for Los Angeles 2028.

Since 2010, the IOC has significantly increased the share that OCOGs collect from the TOP international sponsors and television broadcasting rights.

VANOC saw about $650 million from the IOC, $730 million in domestic sponsorship revenue (75 sponsors, including Bell, HBC, RBC, and Rona), $270 million from ticketing, and $55 million from merchandise. For 2026, the IOC was willing to increase its contribution to a staggering $1.2 billion. Furlong says such a heightened contribution is a reflection of both the IOC’s intention to assist OCOGs, and the new TOP international sponsors it has been able to secure for categories that did not exist previously.

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Street banner with the Vancouver 2010 bid logo in 2003. (Under Consideration)

As for the potential for sizeable domestic sponsorship, Furlong believes Canada’s corporate community engaged in sport has grown since 2010.

This area of the sponsorship market in Canada is fundamentally strong, and made evident by VANOC’s ability to secure a domestic sponsorship revenue total that exceeded the original goal by roughly half.

“Obviously, COVID-19 has interrupted this activity, but the feeling is it’s here, the market is strong, and the Olympics and sport in general have a good relationship. That’s a pretty significant thing,” he continued.

Furlong adds that under the IOC’s reforms offering great flexibility, the spirit of the Games and its legacy could be spread to more areas of the province, especially if the OCOG does not have to focus its attention on a major sports venue construction program. He hinted that there is currently potential interest from Burnaby and as far as Victoria — which both have venues that could potentially be used, including training venues — to be involved in 2030 in some shape or form.

“There’s a possibility that we could expand the theatre a bit… there’s the potential to expand the footprint and spread the power of the Games in more communities,” he said.

“One of the thoughts is that government could look at how far a reach this could have. If we can spread it across the province, could we reach much further and use the Games to touch more people and have a larger impact?”

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay

Day 105 – Torchbearer Arlene Farley (R) passes the flame to Torchbearer Catherine Farstad (L) in Coquitlam, British Columbia. (VANOC/City of Vancouver Archives)

Furlong, who is spearheading the volunteer effort with half a dozen former VANOC members, says the next steps are to engage further with the provincial and municipal governments.

His group recently sent a formal communication to the provincial government to initiate discussions on how 2030 could be one of the big tools to restart the economy and build a more aspirational future, especially for the tourism and hospitality industry. This industry, one of BC’s primary sectors, also happens to be the sector of the economy most affected by COVID-19.

“Our view is that the government would want to have a conversation like this, not just with us, but with others who have ideas to help the government rekindle business activity, and refocus the tourism world,” said Furlong.

“Our focus and view is that the province will take a very hard look into this, they’ll lean into it, and we’ll be able to have a productive discussion.”

Both the federal and provincial governments are currently focusing immensely on interim programs that sustain communities and support families during the immediate crisis, but there is a growingly apparent need for governments to also plan for an economic recovery once the pandemic comes to an end.

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay

Day 106 – Torchbearer Dal Richards carries the flame out of the BC Pavilion in Vancouver. (VANOC/City of Vancouver Archives)

The matter of exploring the feasibility of a 2030 bid will also return to Vancouver City Council next month, and Furlong plans to set the stage for the facts and the possibilities in the weeks ahead, including highlighting the support the initiative has received behind the scenes to date.

“We’re absolutely sure that everyone involved last time will want to be involved. I’ve had a focus group, and I’ve met with a group of tourism leaders and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade… the atmosphere around this is incredibly positive,” said Furlong.

“The tourism world in BC sees how this could really focus our energy, and it brings this international profile for the region and the country that you can’t get in any other way.”

The “winning conditions” exist in Vancouver, Furlong reiterated, from the ability to keep the costs of staging the Games down, and from the geopolitical timing aspects of the international sporting landscape.

But there is a limited timeframe for the region and province to ponder over merely the idea of a 2030 bid. The IOC is currently preoccupied with Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022, but a year from now, after the Winter Games conclude, their attention is expected to quickly shift towards securing a host city for 2030. Without the established seven-year timeline, prospective host cities have the ability to negotiate their way into becoming a partner with the IOC.

While the IOC struggled with finding a wider range of bid cities for the 2022, 2024, and 2026 Games, its reforms are beginning to produce the intended results for future Games. As of Summer 2020, the IOC reported “15 parties” have expressed interest in hosting the various Games.

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay

Day 106 – Torchbearer Jacqui Cohen is passing the flame to torchbearer 55 Cindy Crapper in Vancouver. (VANOC/City of Vancouver Archives)

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