Ted-Jan Bloemen of Canada celebrates with a national flag February 15 after setting an Olympic record to win the gold medal in the men’s 10,000m speed skating at the Gangneung Oval in Gangneung, South Korea, during the 2018 Winter Games. Photo by Andrew Wong/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 14 (UPI) — Residents of Calgary voted Tuesday to reject a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, all but ending the city’s bid for the global event four decades after it last hosted them.

More than 56 percent of voters (171,750) voted against the Games. While the showing is non-binding, province and Canadian federal officials have said they need public support to move forward with the bid.

“I volunteered as board chair because, like so many who voted yes, I believe passionately in Calgary’s future, I’m a hand-on-heart Canadian and I embraced a chance to give back to our city and country through a winning bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Calgary2026 organizer Scott Hutcheson said in a statement after the vote.

“So the key now is to take what we learned and keep asking that question: what is our next big dream, the next big project that will inspire us?”

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The debate over Calgary’s bid centered around the cost of hosting the games, estimated at $5.1 billion, and cost overruns, under the contract with the International Olympic Committee.

“There is no question that hosting the 2026 Olympic Winter Games would have benefits, intangible though they may be,” read a statement on the No Calgary Olympics website, days before the vote. “However, in hosting this mega-event, Calgarians would be vulnerable to security risks for visitors, athletes, and citizens.

“Calgary would have the misfortune of being financially responsible for direct and indirect cost overruns based on the IOC contract. Regardless of the recommendations for the IOC to change its ways, the bottom line does not change.”

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Hutcheson and Calgary 2026 chief executive Mary Moran told the Calgary Herald they believed the public back-and-forth about hosting the Olympics had become polarizing.

“I think building a dream and articulating that with our social media-type of environment today and a populist movement makes it more challenging,” Hutcheson said. “Almost on every issue, things are polarized today in a new way.”

Calgary hosted the Winter Games in 1988 for $829 million. Experts said it brought in $1.4 billion across the country, mostly benefiting Alberta.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the challenge for the city is to get beyond the divisiveness of the Olympic debate.

“I think it’s really important for us over the next weeks and months to come to start peeling that onion and better understand how we got here and what was at the root of people’s concerns and in addition what is at the root of people’s hopes and dreams for the city and how we move forward,” Nenshi said in the Herald’s report.

A successful bid would have brought Canada’s third Olympic Games. Vancouver hosted in 2010.

A similar scenario could also occur for the 2030 Winter Olympics. Salt Lake City and Denver are the final U.S. candidates for the bid, but Denver voters could similarly vote to reject the city’s plan — something it did after winning the 1976 Winter Games, which then went to Innsbruck, Austria.

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