Calgary wants to be a hub city as Canada loses international sports to COVID-19

Canada’s status as an international winter-sport host is taking a beating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cancellations that started in March when the novel coronavirus shut down sport have resumed with Canada losing more World Cups and world championships in 2020 and 2021.

However, Calgary is attempting to plug the drain.

With an eye on Edmonton’s success so far as an NHL hub city, Tourism Calgary and WinSport at Canada Olympic Park want the city to be an international hub for a sport they’re not ready to reveal.

“We’re in conversations on a couple of major bubbles that could potentially come to Calgary,” Tourism Calgary senior vice-president of sales Carson Ackroyd told The Canadian Press.

“With a couple of our key facilities, one of them obviously being WinSport, where do we have a natural advantage from a facility perspective where bubbling could attract a number of events into one spot?”

The International Skating Union that governs speedskating is considering The Netherlands as a potential hub for its long-track season.

The world governing body of skiing (FIS) is compressing multiple alpine ski races into Europe this season and skipping North American stops altogether.

Canada’s snowboard and freestyle ski World Cups in 2021 remain on the FIS calendar for now.

Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park — a 1988 Winter Olympics legacy — is scheduled to host World Cup moguls in January followed by freestyle skiing and snowboard in February.

Several hectares of terrain in a city serviced by an international airport, plus decades of experience as a host, make Calgary a potential candidate for international federations looking for hubs to complete a season.

WinSport chief executive officer Barry Heck isn’t limiting possibilities to outdoor snow sport.

With four NHL-sized arenas, 15 dressing rooms, convention space and a commercial kitchen, Heck says WinSport can pivot to different types of sports events, including indoor competition.

“There’s lots we can do here,” Heck said. “Everything is here and it’s easily contained.”

Freestyle Canada chief executive officer Peter Judge says a hub city is one option among many FIS could choose to run a freestyle ski season.

“It’s really just trying to boil down what’s possible as the scenarios change minute by minute. We will do everything we can to have events in Canada,” Judge said. “They’re important to us.

“We have partners that have always supported us in having events in Canada. We’re optimistic that we’ll figure out some way to get something done in Canada and keep our athletes safe and the general public safe.”

World Cup alpine ski racing in Lake Louise, Alta., speedskating in Calgary, short-track speedskating in Quebec, a para hockey tournament in Bridgewater, N.S., and the 2021 world luge championship in Whistler, B.C., recently joined the list of international competitions in Canada scratched because of the virus.

The women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia, the women’s world curling championship in Prince George, B.C., the world figure skating championships in Montreal and World Cup cross-country skiing in Quebec City and Canmore, Alta., were cancelled in March when the first wave of COVID-19 hit North America.

From lost dollars spent at and around events to young Canadian athletes missing the chance to compete at their first World Cup because the host team gets extra entries, there is an impact on local economies and the sport system.

The 2013 world luge championship in Whistler, B.C. generated $1.1 million in visitor, participant and event organizer spending while generating over half a million dollars in taxes for three levels of government, according to the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance.

Hotels, restaurants, transportation providers and retailers profit from international teams and their coaches and support staff, plus competition officials, arriving days before the event to train and adjust to the local time zone.

“There is a concentrated, significant effort in reaching out to try and bring this activity to the city to help support our tourism economy and the recovery of the province in general,” Ackroyd said.

“The sport-event piece is definitely one of the pieces that will come back in the visitor economy around the world, potentially before others.”

The host country can often field a larger team in a World Cup.

Canada enters up to six men in the Lake Louise downhill, for example, but doesn’t get as many berths elsewhere.

“I think any time you have an opportunity to race against the best in the world, it contributes to athlete development,” Own The Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger said.

“Sports are now looking at what are the strategies to fill that gap? It is no doubt going to be different if we can’t host that World Cup where we might have had ‘X’ number of spots.”

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