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How BC could pull off another Winter Olympics with First Nations leadership

2030 Games playbook

Four B.C. First Nations chiefs and the mayors of Whistler and Vancouver know they have to move fast if they are to put together a bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

The work would have to be completed this year, in time for the International Olympic Committee to consider it before announcing the winner, which would likely be in summer 2023.

The six leaders last month signed a memorandum of understanding to explore whether to embark on such an ambitious undertaking even though not all of them are solid supporters of bringing the Olympics back to B.C.

What is clear for all involved is that if any 2030 Olympic bid arises, the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees would work primarily with representatives from the Squamish, Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Lil’wat First Nations.

Underscoring how nascent the idea is, consultation with at least some Indigenous community members has yet to take place.

“Some of us have not put this past the people in the community,” says Lil’wat chief Dean Nelson. “We’re just in the preliminary stages.”

The MOU signing in December generated some buzz in the media, but no Lil’wat Nation members have asked Nelson about the potential bid, he said last week.

“We haven’t committed to anything," he said. "So there’s no real concern of anything yet, until we do really commit.”

Nelson expects more meetings “soon” between First Nations leadership, mayors and the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Surveys show a divided public. An Insights West poll last year found that 55% of British Columbians support making another Olympic bid. About 85% of those who are opposed to a 2030 bid said the cost would be too high, according to the survey.

Nelson said that he has not yet been in meetings where financing the Games was discussed.

John Furlong, who was CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Games, said a future Olympics could be held without public funding – except for an unspecified amount for security.

The 2030 Olympics organizing committee could be more streamlined and efficient than its 2010 counterpart, and Furlong said B.C. could draw on a deep pool of local expertise on hosting the Games.

"VANOC was thousands of people, and multiple thousands of volunteers," he said. "Many of those folks are still here."

Furlong is not involved in the potential 2030 Olympic bid, although he said he is willing to provide input if asked.

One of his suggestions is that a future bid include communities across B.C. so organizers could use newer, high-quality venues.

Victoria, for example, has first-rate hockey rinks used when it hosted the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championships.

“There are multiple arenas in the province that are big enough, or bigger than the ones we used in 2010,” Furlong said. “So the question is, ‘Can you take the Olympic plan and lay it down in different ways, and include more areas of the province, and make this more inclusive?’”

The 2010 Games Operating Trust ensures financing for the Richmond Olympic Oval and has kept the facility maintained to international sporting standards.

After the 2010 Games, the complex reconfigured its speedskating rinks and made space for gyms, volleyball and basketball courts and ice rinks.

Converting the facilities to again include two 400-metre, long-track speedskating ovals should be relatively easy, Furlong said.

He added that the Games’ operations could pay for any needed conversion, because the amount would be a fraction of the $178 million originally spent to build the Richmond Oval.

The $39 million Hillcrest Centre curling facility used at 2010 Olympics is likely the only venue that could not be reused because it is now a community centre.

Furlong, however, said there are multiple facilities across B.C. that are as good or better for curling.

Similarly, for hockey, Thunderbird Arena, Rogers Arena and the Pacific Coliseum could be used without needing any upgrades or investments, and there are other venues as suitable in Victoria, and other B.C. cities, he added.

“We [in 2010] had a full construction department,” Furlong said. “We had a budget of $580 million to build facilities. So, presumably, we wouldn’t need that at all. Or if there is any [investment] needed, it would be quite small.”

Governments often invest to improve infrastructure in the lead-up to an Olympics or pull forward projects so their cities do not appear to be under construction during the Games.

“If by securing the Olympics in 2030, it gets the SkyTrain to UBC open by 2030, that is definitely a bonus,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who has not yet decided whether to support an eventual Olympic bid.

His agreement so far has only been to explore the possibility of a bid. Having all levels of government come together with sufficient funding for the UBC SkyTrain extension is what he called a “check in the plus column.”

His support for the Games is also contingent on other yet-to-be-determined benefits for Vancouver, and that the Games be led by the Indigenous nations.

Stewart believes the city has learned lessons from the Olympic Village debacle, where developer Millennium Development defaulted on loan payments, leaving the City of Vancouver on the hook for $1 billion, including money owed to the city to buy the site, as well as new debt.

Real estate sales later helped the city pay off the debt, although whether the city fully broke even on the project remains a matter of debate.

Some of the biggest supporters for an Indigenous-led 2030 Olympic bid are in B.C.’s hard-hit tourism sector, which has been reeling from COVID-19-related travel restrictions for almost two years.

That sector needs good news, and hosting an Olympics would fit the bill, supporters say.

Having the world’s attention focused on Vancouver for two weeks during the Games, as well as in the lead-up to the big event, is publicity that tourism marketers simply cannot buy.

Not only would the Olympics put Vancouver in tourists’ minds as a potential place to visit, but it could reinforce the idea that a vacation to B.C. would not be complete without an Indigenous tourism experience, Indigenous Tourism BC chair Brenda Baptiste said.

Those experiences could include walking tours of Indigenous communities, visits to Indigenous restaurants, or whale watching, she said.

Destinations could also include the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art or the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre.

An Indigenous-led Olympics could also have political effects and give Indigenous people a larger say on provincial and national issues, while also helping to foster a global appreciation of First Nations, Baptiste added.

“Reconciliation really is about the sovereignty of Indigenous people, and nations, to make decisions and participate equally at the table in terms of decision-making, and opportunities and events like the 2030 Olympics,” Baptiste said.

“I want the identity of B.C. to never, ever be without that Indigenous voice or lens. That’s what reconciliation is – that you never think of B.C. and Indigenous people as separate.”



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