Olympic organizers are considering canceling the nighttime medal award celebration ceremonies in Whistler and giving the medals out at sport venues to save money.
But Whistler’s Mayor Ken Melamed said the community does not support the idea.
“We know there are challenges but this would be a huge blow to Whistler,” he said.
The suggestion came up at a closed door council meeting earlier this week when Whistler’s Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) board representative, Jim Godfrey, reported back following meetings in Vancouver around the updated budget, which was adopted in principle last month.
The new budget will be made public in January 2009.
“That was the first we had heard of it and I think council was taken aback by the suggestion,” said Melamed.
“(We) pretty clearly gave direction to Mr. Godfrey to go back to VANOC and suggest that this was not really an acceptable suggestion and we needed to keep talking about helping VANOC meet its challenges.”
Whistler is the first Mountain Host venue to be allowed to hand out medals in a Winter Olympics. It has planned an $18.5 million party around the music concerts, shows and celebrations throughout the village and at the Celebration Plaza, the construction of which is due to be complete in September 2009.
There was considerable controversy about the construction of the plaza, which saw the clearing of nearly four acres of woodland in the village. The plaza is slated to cost $14.2 million, with $5 million coming from Canadian Heritage, $3 million from VANOC, and up to $6.2 million from the RMOW.
The Heritage Ministry’s Minister of State for Sport, Gary Lunn, said no final decisions had been made yet and that in these tough economic times VANOC has to look to its bottom line.
“They are looking at all of their options and that is the right thing to do in today’s economic climate… they have to prepare for the unknown,” he said.
“The Celebration (Plaza) site in Whistler is going to be an amazing place whatever role or shape it takes, we are all committed to that.”
Melamed admitted that not having the medals awarded in Celebration Plaza would likely affect the atmosphere in town and it would also reduce the number of spectators who might come into the village from the Nordic venue, 20 kilometres south of Whistler, and the alpine venue at Creekside.
“What we are talking about is that incremental opportunity and that excitement of sharing that moment with the athletes and bringing the Games that much closer to everybody, especially for those who can’t make it to the venues,” said Melamed, adding that this is the first time there has been tension between the RMOW and VANOC.
“We understand VANOC has a job to do. We want to be good partners so we need to continue the dialogue and try to find a way to be respectful of VANOC’s challenges, but at the same time we have to protect the interests and the expectations of Whistler residents and business people.
“…These are Canada’s Games and if the cuts are too deep then it reflects badly not just on Whistler and VANOC but on Canada and I don’t think that is a place where Canadians really want to go.”
VANOC would not address cuts at the Celebration Plaza
specifically but, said Terry Wright, VANOC’s executive vice president of
services and Games operations via e-mail: “All Games time venues and plans are
currently under review, given the economic downturn and the final preparation
of the update to the VANOC business plan.
“Until that review is complete and the business plan is given
final approval and then made public, it would be inappropriate to comment on
Celebration Plaza will be a gated venue and the 8,000
spectators expected nightly will need tickets to gain entry. It has not been
decided if the tickets will be free. It will also be the site of the Whistler
Olympic cauldron and the closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games.
Following the Games it will be a public open space surrounded by institutional and commercial buildings. There will also be a large children’s play area, tiered seating, a large open grassy area and spaces to sell local art and cuisine.