By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
CALGARY — The International Olympic Committee believes Calgary’s Saddledome can host hockey and figure skating in 2026.
Kyle Ripley, the city’s recreation director who is also director of Calgary 2026 bid project team, says IOC personnel who visited the city last week gave thumbs up to facilities still in use from the 1988 Winter Olympics.
“The IOC sees the Saddledome as a facility acceptable for hosting the ice hockey and figure skating competitions,” Ripley said Tuesday at Canada Olympic Park, which was the site of sliding, ski jumping and demonstration freestyle skiing three decades ago.
City council and Calgary Flames owners are in a standoff over a new arena for the NHL team. The Flames pulled out of talks in October. Both sides went public with their respective proposals before icy silence descended.
The Saddledome, completed in 1983, was built both for the ’88 Winter Olympics and the Flames NHL franchise that had arrived from Atlanta in 1980.
With fewer cities interested in hosting Olympic Games, the IOC revamped its bidding and hosting procedures to make both cheaper and sustainable.
Many of Calgary’s facilities are still used for the purpose they were built 30 years ago, which dovetails with the IOC’s new “reduce, reuse, recycle” philosophy, Ripley said.
“The IOC is adamant that no new facilities be built for the Games unless there is an existing need or a strong business case for the facility with or without the Olympics,” he stated.
The Olympic Oval used for long-track speedskating in 1988 is an example, Ripley said, as its 6,000 seats that would have previously been deemed insufficient is now an acceptable capacity to the IOC.
“If Calgary decides to proceed with a bid, it will be with a smarter, more sustainable Games concept,” he said. “We’ve heard the IOC believes Calgary would be an incredible host city, thanks to our legacy infrastructure from the 1988 Winter Games and commitment to winter-sport excellence, our volunteerism and our diversity.”
City council awaits word from both the provincial and federal governments on the financial commitment they’d make to hosting the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Ripley’s team is expected to update council Monday at its regular meeting. But it’s unclear whether there will be new information from the other levels of government by then.
A Calgary delegation is scheduled to head next month’s Winter Olympics, which open Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on a scouting trip.
“If we learn before the Pyeongchang Games that the other orders of government will not provide a funding commitment or if city council decides not to pursue a bid, we have arranged for insurance to cover cancellation costs if necessary,” Ripley said.
The IOC will invite cities to bid for 2026 in October, 2018 with the deadline being January, 2019.
As was the case for 1988, holding alpine skiing in a national park in Lake Louise, Alta., could be environmentally problematic, even though the resort hosts annual World Cup men’s and women’s downhills. Those races were held at Nakiska Ski Resort in ’88.
“The overlay for hosting an Olympic Games is substantially larger than that of a World Cup,” Ripley said.
“(Lake Louise) has the capacity to accommodate the overlay, but we need to have a philosophical conversation as Albertans, as Canadians, if that venue is appropriate for an Olympic event in a national park.”
Calgary city council voted in November to spend up to $2 million more to continue exploring a bid, but only $1 million was released pending an answer from the federal and provincial governments.
The cost of a bid was estimated to be between $25 million and $30 million.
The city’s Olympic project team is continuing the work of Calgary Bid Exploration Committee, which pegged the total cost of hosting the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games at $4.6 billion.