Jen Gerson: On Calgary’s Olympic bid, economists say run away — fast

itself some dignity recently by refusing to kowtow to the Flames in the ongoing negotiations to build a new hockey arena, but whatever self-respect it may have risks being squandered as the city decides whether to move forward with a bid to host the 2026 .

City council will vote Monday on whether to approve another $2 million in funding to further the bid process. And, to be fair, asking councillors to kill the idea is going to be tough. Still recovering from the oil price drop, the city’s unemployment rate is more than 9 per cent — the worst of any city in . The streets are dead. The real estate market is grim.

In short, the Olympics could provide a hit of confidence to a city that has not yet recovered its oil-boom swagger.

But, let’s be clear, that’s all the Olympics would be.

The 1988 Winter cauldron remains near the Frank King Day Lodge at Canada Park.

Games’ boosters have been out in force with fancy assessments promising great economic benefits that haven’t seemed to materialize in any other Olympics city for 30 years.

Earlier this year, the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee The report also predicted another $2.19 billion in revenue thanks to ticketing, merchandising, sponsorship and contributions from the International Olympics Committee.

Of course, the Games would cost $4.6 billion to host, which raises the question of whether it would be comparably more prudent to throw a few billion from an airplane over the Calgary area.

Over the weekend, the Globe and Mail published a previously private report offering a slightly more dour analysis of the Olympics’ economic impacts that somehow didn’t make it to councillors’ inboxes.

Moshe Lander, a sports economics professor at Concordia University in Montreal, said the economics just don’t justify the bid.

“How do I put it succinctly, other than ‘Nooooo’?” he said.

“The Olympics don’t make money. The only Olympics that made money were the 1984 Los Angeles Games … and that was because they branded everything so much that they were jokingly referred to as the McDonald’s Games.”

While Calgary’s 1988 Olympics claims to have broken even, Lander said the last 30 years have provided a pretty clear model; the Games lose money. They overstate the benefits and understate the costs.

One of the rationales often used to justify Olympics bids is the promise of improved infrastructure. Calgary has similarly fallen in step.

Calgary would need a new hockey arena — which would hand Flames owners extraordinary leverage in its negotiations with the city. Additional arenas would be needed on top of that. Further, almost all of its legacy Olympic infrastructure would require overhauls and improvements at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The strictly economic answer is quite simple: If there is no business case for conducting these improvements without the Olympics, then the Olympics alone don’t make for a very good business case.

Calgary doesn’t require the international profile an Olympics would bring.

And as for the charms of nostalgia, well, it isn’t 1988 anymore, is it?

Picture concrete barriers, a no-go downtown zone and more than two weeks of lost productivity as the city converts to a high-security lockdown.

“Nobody wants the games anymore. The only places that want them are non-democratic countries that don’t care if the taxpayer is going to be fleeced for the cash. That’s how you end up with Olympics in Sochi and Beijing,” Lander said.

The Olympics haven’t covered amateur sport with glory of late, either. Officials are still deciding whether to ban Russia from the next Winter Olympics in 2018 despite a plethora of evidence showing widespread doping efforts.

“It’s a bunch of professional athletes roided up who are basically representing their country in a very high stakes game of war dressed up as sports,” Lander said. “That’s what the IOC has created and it’s very hard to turn that back down to the original ideal of amateur athletes competing for the sake of competing. That’s not there anymore.”

That doesn’t mean the Olympics wouldn’t be a wild party, he adds.

But “that’s an expensive way to lift spirits.”

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