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Maxed Out: The misguided fantasy of the 2030 Olympics™ bid

Whistler VIllage getty snow Max
The schemers and dreamers have ramped up the fantasy machine to try and land the 2030 Games™—but could the price tag ever be worth it?

The quadrennial extravaganza of wretched excess—sporting division—is in full swing in the country where everything we buy comes from. I mostly know that because, well, it’s pretty hard to avoid. Every newspaper, including this one, follows it hour-by-hour. There is nothing on our national broadcaster other than it, making it even easier to pretend CBC doesn’t exist. And for two weeks, there seem to be sports other than hockey Canadians have a passing interest in. 

But as uninterested as I am in the Olympics™, I’m pretty interested. Oh, not the stuff happening in China. The stuff happening here; the misguided effort to bring the spectacle back to Vancouver and Tiny Town eight years from now.

Yes, the schemers and dreamers have ramped up the fantasy machine to try and land the 2030 Games™ back in Canada. But this time with a twist no sitting politician is likely to have a negative word about: The trial balloon floating over B.C. and the rest of the country is for an “Indigenous-led Games.”

The Canadian Olympic™ Committee (COC) inked a deal last week with four First Nations—Squamish, Lil’wat, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh—as well as Vancouver and Whistler mayors, to undertake a feasibility assessment and concept development necessary to put together a bid to host 2030.

As reported in Pique earlier this month, Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow explained, “We are only at the beginning of determining what an Indigenous-led Games could look like, but through collaboration and mutual respect, we have the opportunity to create a unique Olympic legacy for all of our communities.”

Let’s set aside, for the moment, the notion of creating a unique legacy for all the communities involved. Let’s also set aside the obscene amount of money it would take to hold another circus here. Instead, let’s talk about fairness and smarts.

Canada held the summer Olympics™ in 1976 in Montreal. In November 2006, the residents of Montreal celebrated finally paying off the cost of those Games™, largely due to the Olympic™ Stadium—“the Big Owe”—that cost $1.4 billion dollars... against a “budget” of $250 million. But hey, that’s Montreal.

And, of course, Calgary hosted in 1988 and Vancouver/Whistler in 2010. Calgary’s turn was reported to be, at the time, one of the most costly Games™ ever held. Vancouver’s bill was more but let’s not quibble. The fact is, the total cost of the Olympics™ is somewhere between the creative accounting reported by the host organization and the real cost. 

And that doesn’t take into account the ongoing legacy costs of the white elephants left behind, like the Saddledome in Calgary. Earlier this year, the city and owners of the NHL’s Calgary Flames pulled the plug on a cost-sharing plan to rebuild the arena with a budget of $600 million and rising. The costs to kill the project already totalled $20 million to $25 million.

So how smart would it be for Vancouver/Whistler to throw their/our hats in the ring and hit replay? As outlined this week in the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Organizing Committee’s (VANOC) report that the games broke even is, to be generous, creative accounting that wouldn’t pass muster with generally accepted accounting principles. 

VANOC conveniently omitted the $600 million taxpayer dollars spent to build venues, the $900 million for security, and some other odds and sods. Nor did it include the $100-million haircut Vancouver took on its Olympic™ Village condo fiasco. As Everett Dirksen once said about the much larger U.S. budget, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” Except with the Olympics™, hopefully, we’re just ignoring millions. Either way, real money.

And while it may be uncomfortable to think about, isn’t Canada being uncharacteristically hoggish about this potential bid? I mean, four Olympics™ in just over 50 years? Why not let some of the other countries that excel at the Games™ have a shot at it? 

Looking at the medal standings early this week, Canada’s six medals are exceeded by Norway’s eight, Austria’s and the Netherlands’ seven, and tied with Sweden’s six. It goes without saying those countries revel in their athletes’ Olympic™ success every bit as much as those of us who pay attention to such things do. After all, that’s one of the leading reasons people tout the Games™: National Pride!

But those countries have been smart about it. Norway has just hosted the Games™ twice, in 1952 and 1994. Austria has also hosted twice, in 1964 and 1976. The Netherlands once, in 1928! They tried to generate interest for the centennial in 2028, but neither Amsterdam nor Rotterdam gave a damn. Level-headed Sweden hosted in 1912 and withdrew its bid for the 2022 games.

What do those countries know that Canada doesn’t know? Yes, that is a rhetorical question. Accept the invite, enjoy the dinner, save the cost of hosting yourself.

Let’s also ponder the question of what the four First Nations might do for themselves and the other First Nations with the dough it would require to mount 2030. Even as out of the loop as I am, I can think of many more substantial and necessary community benefits the funds squandered on the Olympics™ might provide. 

But if this notion gains any traction—and like I said, I don’t think there’s a politician of any stripe wanting to get re-elected who is likely to vote against it—here are the legacies I’d like to see Whistler get out of it.

First off, a four-lane highway from the Callaghan to Lorimer Road, the kind our Green Mafia declined to consider when goodies were being doled out for 2010. The only way we’re going to get more people out of cars is to have a bigger highway. What? Yes. By four-laning the highway, we can have dedicated, exclusive bus lanes running both directions, maybe even bike lanes. The only way we’re going to get people out of cars is to make transit faster and easier. Sitting in a bus in gridlock is not better than sitting in your own car in gridlock. Coupled with punitive day lot parking rates—think $50 with affordable, monthly locals rates—and a satellite parking lot at the Callaghan with a free, frequent, fast shuttle to the village, we might make progress with the every-morning-every-evening conga line.

Second, a new athletes village also to be repurposed as employee/seniors housing. I’d like to see fair consideration of a fair proposal to site this on the Zen lands, across the highway from Spring Creek. Failing that, on half of the Palmer golf course.

Of course, I’d like to see the whole idea die a rapid death. But that seems unlikely.