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Potential bid for Vancouver 2030 Olympics 'full of red flags,' says councillor

City staff report says insufficient time to evaluate benefits, costs and risks of hosting another Olympics
Vancouver council is scheduled to debate a staff report Wednesday (July 20) on whether the city should support a 2030 Olympic bid. File photo Rob Kruyt

Vancouver city staff have recommended council hold off on a decision on a potential bid for the 2030 Olympics because there are many unknowns largely related to cost to prepare and host another Winter Games.

A report that goes before council Wednesday (July 20) outlines more questions than answers regarding a potential bid led by the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and, Lil’wat First Nations.

Vancouver and Whistler have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the nations to consider a bid while the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), which later signed a collaboration agreement with the group, leads the 2030 Feasibility Team.

“Because the eventual funding and indemnification model for the 2030 Winter Games has not yet been determined, staff cannot at the time of this report provide council with even an order-of-magnitude estimate of the financial implications of hosting the Games,” said the report, noting provincial and federal funding commitments and indemnifications are critical components of a 2030 Winter Games funding model.

The report said the “extremely compressed” deadline to finalize a bid is insufficient time for staff to evaluate the potential benefits, costs and risks to the city, and to negotiate the necessary legal agreements by the COC’s deadline of December 2022.

Staff has recommended council wait until the feasibility team has publicly announced whether it recommends advancing the bid, which is expected in November.

Council should also instruct staff to seek clarity from the COC concerning the financial, operating, indemnification and governance models of the Games “to meaningfully inform a council decision," the report said.

FIFA World Cup

Preparing a potential Olympic bid comes at a busy time in the city’s calendar.

An increased workload for staff was cited as an issue in the report, which noted Vancouver will be one of the Canadian host cities for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Vancouver will also host the 2023 Laver Cup international tennis tournament, the 2025 Invictus Games and potentially a future Formula E race car event.

More presently, there is substantial work to be done across many city departments to prepare for the October 2022 municipal election and develop the city’s 2023 operating and capital budgets.

“City staff is currently facing an unprecedented workload, and at the same time, is dealing with the same pandemic-related staff attraction and retention issues that are ubiquitous across North America and other parts of the world right now,” said the report, adding that the city’s organization does not currently have the capacity to take on the planning and preparation for the Games.

'Should not assume'

The COC has set November as the month it wants to hear from all levels of government, the four host nations and the Adams Lake Indian Band, Little Shuswap Lake Band, Neskonlith Indian Band and Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc on whether they support a bid.

Richmond, Kamloops and the Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality have also expressed interest in the 2030 Games, which presumably makes the COC’s task of getting consensus and agreements prepared by the end of year more challenging.

Added to that challenge is a June 24 letter from B.C.’s Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Melanie Mark to Tricia Smith, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), who also raised concerns about costs and agreements associated with a Games bid.

“Because the Province has not yet made a decision with respect to financial support for the 2030 Games, the eight First Nations and local governments should not assume that the Province will be responsible for costs of services and/or risks that they might incur,” Mark wrote.

Olympic committee responds to city report

In response to the concerns of Vancouver city staff, the COC provided an emailed statement Monday, July 18, to Vancouver Is Awesome, noting the staff report also recognized potential benefits to the city of an Indigenous-led Games.

Those benefits, as stated in the report, include reconciliation, possible senior government investment related to transit, affordable housing and upgrades to venues, along with a boost to the local economy and strengthening “a sense of community through sport and cultural events, programs and legacies, and foster inclusivity, civic engagement and pride.”

“Should all local councils express a desire to continue moving forward, we believe that it is definitely possible to meet the relevant milestones within domestic and international bid processes with proper information available to support informed decision making of all parties,” the COC’s 2030 Feasibility Team statement said.

“The project is based on the spirit of collaboration and dialogue and a mutual commitment to reconciliation. The values of respect, inclusivity and community guide our work, and, with all partners committed to exploring the vision outlined in the Initial Hosting Concept, it is possible for the proper details and agreements to be finalized in appropriate timeframes.”

The B.C. government has given the COC an Aug. 15 deadline to produce a detailed response to Mark’s letter, which asks for a cost-benefit analysis, the cost of security, lasting legacies of the Games and a long list of other conditions related to hosting another Olympics.

'Full of red flags'

Meanwhile, Coun. Colleen Hardwick announced Monday that she will attempt to re-introduce a motion to have a city-wide plebiscite on whether Vancouverites want to host another Games. Her first attempt was thwarted in April, when no other member of council seconded her motion.

“It’s clear from the report to city council that we have a $4 billion 2030 Olympic bid proposal that is full of red flags, which reinforces just how important it is for Vancouverites to have their say,” Hardwick said in a news release. “When city staff say there is ‘potentially unlimited financial risk,’ every Vancouverite should be very afraid.”

For the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, the city spent approximately $554 million, the equivalent of about $800 million in today’s dollars. That included $524 million in upgrading several community centres, including Trout Lake and Hillcrest. Another $30 million was spent in operating costs.

The total cost of the 2010 Winter Games was estimated between $4 billion and $8 billion.

The $4 billion cost excludes the development of the Canada Line, the improvements to Highway 99 to Whistler and a significant expansion to the Vancouver Convention Centre.

The International Olympic Committee is expected to award the 2030 Games in May or June 2023. Salt Lake City, Utah and Sapporo, Japan are other cities interested in hosting the event.

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