B.C. 2030 Olympic, Paralympic bid may be falling behind Sapporo in apparent 2-horse race

The Indigenous-led bid to bring the 2030 Olympics and Paralympics to B.C. appears to have hit its first roadblock. What remains to be seen is whether the initial blow is also fatal.

Vancouver council to discuss city manager's report which criticized hosting plan on Wednesday

Andrew Baker, a Canadian Olympic Committee 2030 Feasibility Team member, is seen above earlier in July. The bid group may have run into its first major problems in response to its estimated costs report. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The Indigenous-led bid to bring the 2030 Olympics and Paralympics to B.C. appears to have hit its first roadblock.

Two weeks ago, the bid leadership group announced estimated hosting costs totalling up to $4 billion, including $1.2 billion in taxpayer funds.

But less than a week later, the Vancouver city manager released a report critical of the bid group's plan, with issues including a truncated timeline, an unclear funding model and a lack of agreement between the many parties involved.

As such, the report stated that it would be impossible to decide whether to move forward.

"At this point in time, there are substantial concerns about the city's staff capacity to actually take on a host city role for the 2030 Winter Games, without significant investments in incremental staff resources," the report said.

The report is scheduled to be discussed in city council Wednesday, though a final resolution on proceeding with the bid will likely not come until after October's municipal election.

Meanwhile, the province told the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) that financial support should not be assumed. Outgoing premier John Horgan told Global News on Monday that "it would be irresponsible of me to make a significant multiple-million-dollar investment without seeing what the final consequences would be."

'Possible to meet relevant milestones'

The bid group includes the Lil̓wat7úl (Líl̓wat), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) nations, in addition to the COC, the Canadian Paralympic Committee and the municipalities of Vancouver and Whistler.

In a statement provided to CBC Sports on Monday, the COC emphasized its Indigenous-led process.

"Should all local councils express a desire to continue moving forward, we believe that it is possible to meet the relevant milestones within domestic and international bid processes with proper information available to support informed decision making of all parties."

Chris Point, left, and Alec Dan, right, of the Musqueam Indian Band perform a ceremonial song during a joint news conference in June between the COC, the four host First Nations and the cities of Vancouver and Whistler. (Jeff Vinnick/The Canadian Press)

The Líl̓wat Nation has yet to formally endorse continuation of work. The Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations unanimously approved moving forward, while the Musqueam Indian Band also provided an endorsement.

CBC Sports reached out to the Líl̓wat Nation for comment via email on Tuesday.

In a written Q&A sent to media on Monday, the bid group stated that 50 per cent of public funds would be covered by the federal government, while organizing committee costs would be fully privately funded.

Remaining costs would be allocated to upkeep of venues and three Athletes' Villages, which would be legacy housing for First Nations.

MST Development Corp, a partnership of the Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation, would foot part of the housing bill in addition to municipal and provincial costs up to $135 million.

The bid group hopes to complete the agreement process within seven months, including preparatory work until November and a negotiation period over the three following months.

Targeted dialogue with the International Olympic Committee would begin in December, with an official decision to be made at the IOC session in Mumbai from May 30 to June 1, 2023.

B.C. vs. Sapporo

As recently as last month, the case could have been made that B.C. was the favourite to win hosting rights.

Spain's effort fell apart amid government infighting. Salt Lake City admitted 2034 may be more realistic, considering Los Angeles is already slated to host the Summer Games in 2028, though it lingers as a safe fallback option.

It all leaves B.C. vs. Sapporo, Japan. In the Canadian bid's favour was the uniqueness of its Indigenous-led process, the relative newness of its venues (built for the 2010 Games, whereas Sapporo last hosted in 1972) and its timezone appeal to North American viewers. Plus, Japan just hosted the delayed 2020 Olympics, the second of three consecutive Asian Games.

But as B.C. faces administrative issues, there is a school of thought that the IOC may return to a Japanese group with whom it navigated the pandemic-affected Games.

B.C.'s Games "hosting concept" is revealed in June. (Jeff Vinnick/The Canadian Press)

Judith Grant Long, a Toronto-born professor at the University of Michigan who is an expert on Olympic games planning, said there is "anecdotal evidence" for such IOC reasoning.

"The idea that the IOC would come back and 'reward' [Japan] — again using reward in apostrophes — I think that wouldn't surprise me," Grant Long said.

IOC president Thomas Bach recently praised Japan's government partnerships.

"What I can see is that there is a very good cooperation between the different levels of authorities and government on the one hand … and also there is a good cooperation with the Japanese Olympic Committee on the other hand," Bach said. "And this kind of cooperation and support is one of the essentials for every intention to host Olympic Games."

Difference in public support

Public support for another Olympics in Japan — so soon after projected Tokyo 2020 costs doubled to $15.4 billion — is murky.

A March poll showed that 52 per cent of respondents to a Sapporo survey answered by 5,775 people were either in favour or somewhat in favour of the bid. Sapporo's population is nearly 2.7 million people.

Grant Long said the polling may have been done strategically, aimed at those more likely to support the bid. Meanwhile, a small group of protesters gathered in both Sapporo and Tokyo in June to oppose the bid.

"It's hard to know what the sentiment of the Japanese is at this particular moment in time and whether or not the sentiment of people in Sapporo … differs dramatically from the rest of Japan, such that they would be, for example, more supportive. And then whether or not that matters in the grand context of Japan as a country mounting another Olympic bid," Grant Long said.

Sapporo also must build a slate of new venues or significantly update its 1972 ones that will be nearly 60 years old in 2030.

"I think the Japanese have proven very capable of producing what needs to be produced on time, but there is some risk associated with the fact that I think they would have a little bit of a construction program. And then there's the impact on the media sponsorship and so on revenues. And I think that that bodes well for Vancouver," Grant Long said.

A July survey showed that 54 per cent of B.C. resident respondents supported an Olympic bid, up 11 points from December. The increase, according to Research Co. and Glacier Media, was primarily due to interest in the Indigenous-led process.

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