Moving Beyond the 2026 Games Bid: Sport for Calgary Starts Now

Murray Sigler (CEO) and Catriona Le May Doan (Senior Director, Community and Sport Engagement) with Sport Calgary

Murray Sigler (CEO) and Catriona Le May Doan (Senior Director, Community and Sport Engagement) with Sport Calgary

Throughout the Calgary 2026 Olympic and Paralympic bid exploration process last year, it seemed the “Yes” and “No” sides disagreed on nearly everything. Costs, timelines and potential legacies were disputed.

One issue both sides agreed on? The importance of amateur sport in Calgary.

The new year brings with it a unique opportunity for community building around sport. As both “Yes” and “No” sides agreed, we are a sport city, with sport serving as a main catalyst for our continuing growth and diversity. With over 400,000 Calgarians directly involved in sport, and a $1.2 billion annual impact on the local economy from amateur sport alone, sport connects us all.

Calgary is a growing and increasingly diverse city. Our growth has led to new communities, new demographics, and new sports, all of which create opportunities we can capture. Our city has all the needed ingredients, and the recipe for community building should be easy for our political leaders to follow.  

Despite the plebiscite result, we are still an Olympic city, and have been for more than 30 years. The legacy from the 1988 Games has helped define our civic landscape. We should be proud of our recent Economist Intelligence Unit ranking as the fourth most livable city in the world, and recognize that the high quality of life indicators required for that ranking have been significantly shaped by quality sport opportunities. 

Great cities need great infrastructure. Recent research from KPMG identified seven core principles of “magnet cities”, which attract new residents, visitors and investment for the benefit of all. In some cases these cities have made quick transformations, such as Pittsburgh, Denver, and Oklahoma City. These magnet cities have a definable city identity, strong leadership, and undergo constant physical renewal, which includes investment in sport and recreation infrastructure.

City Council and Calgary Recreation deserve credit for their recent progressive sport policies and major investments in infrastructure. In 2018, the Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge opened, and the similarly spectacular Brookfield Residential YMCA at Seton opens soon on January 14. The civic budget cycle also saw $57 million committed to restoration of aging sport infrastructure. With 71% of City recreation facilities in “poor” or “critical” condition, these funds will keep the lights on for sport and recreation.

In 2019, Calgary will host several major sport events, including the Canada Games 2019, Spruce Meadows, the Shaw Charity Classic, ATP Challenger, all the way through to the Grey Cup in December.

However, through lack of facilities, we are missing out on hosting many events. This means lost economic opportunities. Infrastructure funding priorities in 2019 should include investment in major sport facilities that are capable of hosting profitable events. 

The top priority is a multisport fieldhouse. Despite strong advocacy by the Calgary Multisport Fieldhouse Society over many years, it remains unfunded. As currently proposed, Calgary’s major multisport fieldhouse would house an indoor track, as well as facilities for a wide variety of both turf and court sports, along with spectator seating, locker rooms, and more.

Calgary is the only Canadian city of more than 100,000 people without a multisport fieldhouse. However, that’s not enough of a reason to build one.

In these tough economic times, Council and all Calgarians rightfully demand tangible returns on major public investment in community infrastructure projects and programs, in addition to social benefits.

A Calgary multisport fieldhouse would be a community asset open for hundreds of thousands of Calgarians per year to enjoy affordably. The building would bring a viable revenue stream to sustain operations well into the future, likely by a non-profit society.

Community building must be community driven. Without broad community support of worthy causes, nothing gets done. Community support over our city’s history has led to important investments in events, infrastructure, and legacies.

As part of budget priorities in January, Sport Calgary is urging Council to commit to funding for a fieldhouse. Let’s make 2019 the year of sport for Calgary!

David Benson