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Globe editorial: Calgary, do you really want the Olympics? Again?

Last summer, Calgary's municipal council allocated $5 million to exploring the question of the whether the city should support a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Due diligence and careful study are never a waste, but the honest answer was always going to be clear: No.

At least now there's up-to-date evidence as to why.

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Though Calgary would be able to rely largely on existing installations originally built for the 1988 Games, mounting the Olympics in 2026 would still cost a projected $4.6 billion – including a minimum taxpayer outlay of $2.4 billion.

Oh, and those figures don't include the multiple hundreds of millions needed for a new fieldhouse and arena. Nor do they account for the fact that Olympic financial projections feature prominently in the Big Book of Imaginary Numbers. They're approximately as reliable as a canoe made from the paper they are printed on.

Even if the city of Calgary is in reasonable financial shape – it posted a small surplus in 2016 – the province of Alberta most certainly is not. Does anyone want to pile on billions in new debt, for this?

The International Olympic Committee's quadrennial showcases aren't what they used to be. As costs have exploded and concerns about the games behind the Games have grown, bids to host the Olympics have dried up.

Seven aspirants for the 2022 Winter Games dwindled to just two, and as for the 2024 Summer Games, there are only two bidders: Paris and Los Angeles. Faced with such world-wide reluctance, the IOC in September is expected to take the unprecedented step of awarding the 2024 event to one city, and the 2028 Games to the other.

Even a multinational corporation like McDonald's no longer sees the value in being associated with the brand: The fast-food giant recently ended its sponsorship agreement with the IOC three years ahead of schedule.

It appears the only people who reliably profit from the Olympics are those populating the IOC's Swiss headquarters.

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Consider, too, that since 1984, not a single Games has come in under budget. Costs have a funny way of ballooning.

It starts with the ridiculously expensive requirements – for installations, security and so on – built into any contract with the IOC. And then there is the fact that biding cities often use the Games as a kind of loss-leader that allegedly allows them to extract cash from higher levels of government in order to fund pet infrastructure projects or urban renewal.

Vancouver's 2010 Games cost roughly $7 billion; Calgary's proposal presents a decidedly no-frills vision.

It doesn't feature a new airport, highways or a raft of legacy installations. There is no plan to rebuild a neglected part of the city. In other pitches, an absurdly expensive two weeks of ephemeral sizzle have been used to force through spending on at least some real, useful infrastructure – which may deliver long-term benefits, but definitely drive up costs. Calgary's bid is cheaper – because what spending remains is largely sizzle.

Even if the Winter Games can be staged on a far more manageable budget than their summer equivalent, the magical reputational benefits that allegedly derive from hosting the Olympics dissipate quickly, when they aren't an outright illusion.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is an avowed Olympic fan but has thus far reserved judgment on whether he'll support a formal bid. In any case, nothing can happen without help from other, deeper-pocketed levels of government. Premier Rachel Notley could nip the whole enterprise in the bud with a polite, regretful no. She has every reason to.

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The province's fiscal situation remains perilous. Thanks to the oil-price bust, Alberta is saddled with a huge budget deficit. Ms. Notley's government doesn't have to close that gap immediately, but over several years, it must. And absent a strong rebound in oil prices, that means either tax increases or spending cuts – not discovering new things, such as the Olympics, to blow money on.

The same goes for cries for taxpayer assistance for the Calgary Flames' hoped-for new arena – a precondition for an Olympic bid.

The arena deal may happen anyway, given that Edmonton and Quebec City set the recent precedent for handing public millions to people who emphatically do not need them.

If politicians want to make Calgary a better place than it already is, council should by all means ask taxpayer to pony up for, say, better mass transit – the city is planning a new, $4.6-billion light-rail line, for which it needs some of that scarce provincial money – or other modernized infrastructure.

Major investments should serve the long-term public interest, not just a two-week stretch in the winter of 2026.

Calgary has already been an Olympic city once. Isn't that enough?

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