Making Sense of the Calgary No Vote and the Way Forward

November 30, 2018

Paul Melia, CCES president and CEO -- 

The majority of Calgarians who voted in the recent plebiscite regarding hosting the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games voted No. Like many others who love sport in Canada, I am trying to make sense of this outcome. Here’s my take. 

I don’t think Calgarians were voting No to the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes that have and continue to represent our country with such great pride. I don’t think they were voting No to the tremendous national sport organizations in Canada that create opportunities for young people to excel athletically. I don’t think they were voting No to the Canadian government’s (at all levels) significant financial contributions to sporting opportunities in our country. And I certainly don’t think they were voting No to a values-based and principle-driven sport system in Canada that represents such a great public asset.     

So, why did they vote No?

The commonly stated reason is that the Olympic and Paralympic Games cost too much and there was no certainty that a reasonable budget could be adhered to. That is only part of the picture. I think they voted No to becoming a partner with an International Olympic Committee (IOC) that consistently puts greed ahead of principle. I think they voted No to an IOC that refuses to pay its athletes, even though it generates billions of dollars off their backs. I think they voted No to an IOC that turned a blind eye to the largest doping scandal in history as perpetrated in Russia. I think they voted No to the Olympic corporate sponsors that fail to speak out and continue to endorse this version of the IOC brand. In short, I think they voted No to an IOC that is totally inconsistent with the values of Canadians. 

So, for those of us that love sport, what is the way forward?

Canada must work harder to affect change in international sport. We must stand up, call out corruption and greed in international sport, and be heard. We must always put our values and principles first. It is not okay to take a back seat in this advocacy work just because we are hoping to hold a future major Games. I commend those that publicly supported one of our Olympic Champions when she was being bullied on the international stage and am disappointed with those that did not for fear of jeopardizing their relationship with an international federation. It is not okay to remain silent because we think we might offend a corporate investor. 

Now is the time to define what a new and improved Olympic brand represents. Now is the time to attract new corporate partners that reflect these values and holds the IOC to account. Now is the time to demand that athletes be appropriately compensated. 

While this may sound daunting, the good news is the way forward is being lead by a growing number of highly energized athletes around the world – many of whom are Canadians. They are demanding change! The IOC can either be part of the solution, or quite frankly it may become a thing of the past replaced by a new global sporting event.