CALGARY, Alta. May. 30, 2017/ Troy Media/ – Canada has only hosted the Summer Olympic Games once in its history, but those Montreal games were to leave an unexpected legacy behind them.
The fact that Montreal was awarded the right to host the 1976 games came as something of a surprise, as it beat off stiff competition from both Moscow and Los Angeles for the honour. That Montreal succeeded owed much to the work of Mayor Jean Drapeau, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that Montreal triumphed in its bid. However, the hard work was only just beginning as the reality of staging the Games would prove to be an extremely difficult proposition.
Financial problems plagued the Olympic project from the word go. With little support for the Montreal Games from the rest of Canada, federal funding was not forthcoming. And while mistakes were certainly made, the timing of the construction projects worked against Montreal. In an era of spiralling inflation, just about every infrastructural project was to run way over budget, with raw materials such as steel tripling in price during the ’70s. This made the Mayor’s famous proclamation “The Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby” come to seem more than a little optimistic.
While there was little that the organising team could do about global inflation, big mistakes were made in other areas of the construction project. The initial budget of $125 million was to prove hopelessly optimistic, with over $100 million spent on security alone in the wake of the terrorist attacks at the ’72 Munich Games. Delays to construction projects proved devastatingly expensive, as unions were able to negotiate massive overtime paydays for their members. The biggest white elephant of them all turned out to be the Olympic Stadium, which proved to be spectacularly unsuited to both the climate and requirements of the city. It didn’t take long for the Stadiums nickname of ‘The Big O’ to become ‘The Big Owe’, as the Games ended up racking up an enormous bill of over of $1.5 billion for the city.
With funding in such short supply, one means used by the organisers to raise desperately needed funds was the Olympic Lottery; the first national lottery in Canada. With tickets at $10 each for a $1 million jackpot, the lottery was very profitable for the organisers, and it also proved to be extremely popular with the general public. While today Canadians can play PowerBall and other global lotteries online, in the early 1970s the Olympic Lottery was the only game in town. The first lottery draw took place in April 1974, with a group of nine women sharing the $1 million prize pool. The draw was televised under the somewhat clunky name of ‘Mission Million … Possible’ and drew enormous viewing figures across the country, as people organised ‘lottery parties’ at their homes.
Whatever else about the legacy of the Montreal Olympic Games, the Olympic Lottery was to launch the Canadian love affair with the lottery which continues to this day. It is estimated that roughly a quarter of the population now plays the lottery weekly, whether that be Lotto 6/49, Lotto Max or one of the host of online lotteries available these days. With the lure of a monster jackpot win on offer, the enduring appeal of lotteries in Canada may well be the most long-lasting legacy of the infamous Montreal Games.
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