This year marks the 30th anniversary since Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympic Games and with a potential bid to host again in 2026, there’s no doubt that Calgarians are reminiscent of those days. If the city  hosts again, it is important to take safety considerations into account.

Through careful research, our team dug into archives, news reports and statements from the Calgary exploration bid committee, compiling a list of five key areas to consider in keeping everyone safe and healthy.

1. Security will cost roughly $610 million

When it’s all said and done, the cost of security during an Olympics in Calgary in 2026 is estimated at $510 million with another $100 million for contingency planning.

A report by Deloitte links the costs to “private security services, as well as local police and military forces.”

Deloitte also lists what exactly the security costs will entail for a 2026 Olympics in Calgary in their 2017 report.

Security costs taken directly from Deloitte’s report include:

     ❏ Emergency services

     ❏ Aviation

     ❏ Meals and accommodation

     ❏ Flights, vehicles, maintenance and fuel

     ❏ Leased office and warehouse space

     ❏ Mobilization and demobilization

     ❏ Administration, training, information technology and central command

     ❏ Special and office equipment

The Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) took a multi-pronged review of costs based on previous major events, such as past Olympics, Paralympics and the Pan Am Games. The CBEC planners also proposed a framework based on the following:

     ❏ Rely on the intelligence community to gauge and mitigate actual threat

     ❏ Use new hi-tech security to increase safety while reducing personnel costs

     ❏ Ensure the qualifications of security personnel match the risks

According to CBEC, the 2026 framework has been scaled back compared to the Winter Games in Vancouver where national defence costs were $231 million because of Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan in 2010.  

NicholsonCalgTow copyIconic symbol of the city, The Calgary Tower would ultimately be a hotspot for international tourists visiting if the city hosted the 2026 Olympics. Photo by Alexandra Nicholson.

2. Preventing the spread of sickness is a huge challenge

The Olympic Games host more than 6,000 athletes and officials from over 80 countries worldwide, and that doesn’t include all the volunteers, media personnel and visitors streaming into the sites, inflating the numbers into the tens of thousands. With so many people coming from different parts of the world,  preventing the transmission of harmful germs is critical.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a watch concerning an outbreak of norovirus among security staff at the Olympics in PyeongChang.

Media reports also confirmed that “a highly pathogenic strain of H5N6 avian influenza was found on a chicken farm in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, about 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) south of Seoul,” with another report of avian flu occuring at another chicken farm down at Pyeongtaek.

However, it is important to note that transmission from animals to humans is considered low, but travellers have been warned about potential risks and precautions.

Preventing the Flu Protectors

The Vancouver Olympics in 2010’s main concern was swine flu.

As the dangerous bug swept the globe, millions of people were travelling to Canada, but the outbreak never happened —  Vancouver recorded 85 cases of measles, compared to only 4 diagnoses the year prior.

On July 7, 2015, scientists from the University of British Columbia concluded the 2010 measle case was linked to an “influx of visitors during the Winter Olympics.”

Lead author Jennifer Gardy said “In 2010, we had two visitors, probably from separate parts of the world, who each brought one genotype of measles with them.”

In 2016, Rio’s primary concern was preventing the spread of Zika virus, which is spread primarily from infected mosquitoes, but also through sexual transmission, infected pregnant women or health donors.

Those affected suffered through a variety of symptoms including red eyes, joint pains, fever and a “flat red rash covered with small bumps on the skin.”

Some mothers with the infection gave birth to babies with defects including hearing loss, abnormal development in the eyes and incomplete brain activity.

Closer to home, Canada’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network has an ongoing project in public health surveillance.

Their method, as explained in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, is to “identify locations in the world from where large numbers of people are expected to travel to attend a mass gathering and where infectious disease threats of public health significance are reported.”

By tracking infectious disease occurrences and locating places with high travel volumes to Canada, the network  is able to take precautionary measures such as issuing vaccination advisories.

Alberta Health Services says that it too has “surveillance sites around the province that track a number of different symptoms (including rash, diarrhea or respiratory illness) to monitor for potential outbreaks.”

The AHS electronic system also allows health professionals to intervene against the spread of diseases in the beginning so it can be preventable.

3.  Athletes, injury and illness go hand in hand

The spread of germs isn’t the only threat — with thousands of athletes competing in the Olympics, their physical health is often in jeopardy.

According to reports from Scientific American, approximately 10 per cent of Olympians get hurt during the Olympics — often happening while training or competing.

Nicholson Info Olympics

And, like spectators and volunteers, they also face risk of viral and bacterial infections.

Athletes’ training and nutrition regimes can also lead to illness — for example, Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (RED-S) is a concern.

“RED-S occurs when an imbalance in energy intake and energy output has detrimental effects on bone health, menstrual function (in women), metabolic rate, immune function, cardiovascular health and psychological health,” writes Katherine Schaumberg in the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders blog.

If an athlete overexerts while training but doesn’t increase food intake to compensate for the increased energy output, then RED-S can occur.

The British Medical Journal has conducted a study on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) consensus statement regarding RED-S.

The study begins by explaining that RED-S, once thought to only affect women and their menstruation cycles, in fact affects both men and women.

Athletes are warned by coaches and doctors not to overwork themselves and take in less calories than they need to perform.

4. Doping: Cheaters beware

Another threat to physical well-being at the Olympics relates to the use of doping, which has threatened not only the physical health of athletes, but the reputation of the IOC.

Doping Infographic

Last year, the IOC banned 43 Russians for doping offences at the Sochi Olympics, but recently 28 Russian athletes had the ban overturned due to insufficient evidence.

Eleven more Russians who were found guilty of doping and sentenced with a lifetime ban are now prohibited only from the Pyeongchang Games. The Russian government, however, denies ever supporting athletes and doping.

Dick Pound, the former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency and former vice president of the IOC, chaired a commision on the Russian doping investigation.

Pound disagrees with the IOC response to Russian doping.

Pound told South China Morning Post “I believe that in the collective mind in a significant portion of the world and among the athletes of the world, that the IOC has not only failed to protect clean athletes but has made it possible for cheating athletes to prevail against the clean athletes.”

A 2015 study in Sports Medicine found that 14 to 39 per cent of elite athletes do some form of doping, and The United States Anti-Doping Agency estimates that over 3 million Americans use performance-enhancing drugs.

Nicholson Olympic plaza 4At the heart of the city, Olympic Plaza was once used as the spot for the medal ceremonies. Now it’s used for events and public skating. Photo by Alexandra Nicholson.

5. Mental illness: An unseen threat

While we associate the Olympics with physical capacity and endurance, mental health is also critically important.

For Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes, mental illness is all too real.

“Clara lost two years to mental illness, racing only six weeks out of an 11-month cycling season while she battled depression,” says Nugget reporter Erin Cowan.

Hughes is a national spokesperson for Bell Canada’s mental health initiative and the Let’s Talk campaign — a campaign focused on bringing awareness to stigmas surrounding mental illness while raising funds for mental health initiatives.

She opened up about her past struggles with depression in hopes of ending the stigma associated with mental illness.

“When somebody is crying out, when somebody is struggling, they need their voice heard for the first time,” says Hughes in her Let’s Talk video.

Hughes’ struggle with mental illness started after the 1996 Atlanta Games.

“She described herself as feeling unmotivated, unable to get out of bed, and purposefully isolating herself. She told us of the times she would cry for no reason, and how she once had to find refuge in a washroom stall because she was overcome with tears,” reports Cowan.

Post-Olympic depression is another issue many Olympians face when returning to their normal everyday lives after an adrenaline pumping elite world event.

This mental illness affects both winners and losers. One of the ways to combat this, according to sports psychologist Kristin Keim, is “to build an identity off the playing field.”

Olympians such as Hayley Wickenheiser, Kyle Shewfelt and Janis MacDonald have created lives out of their olympic retirement. Read the Calgary Journal story by Colin Macgillivray to see how.

Survey Results Protectors

Editor: Polly Eason | 

This story is part of Hindsight 2026, a joint project between the Sprawl and the Calgary Journal (which is produced by journalism students at Mount Royal University). We’re digging into past Olympics to evaluate whether a 2026 Winter Games in Calgary would help or hinder our city.

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