Jay Goldberg: World Cup games are a long way off for taxpayers

For every minute that Toronto and Vancouver host the 2026 World Cup games, taxpayers will be on the hook with $644,000

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Consider this: For every minute that Toronto and Vancouver host the 2026 World Cup games, taxpayers will be on the hook with $644,000. Who knows? Maybe we’re lucky and there’s extra time that brings the cost per minute down to just $600,000 or $550,000.

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Late last month, the Canadians learned that Toronto and Vancouver will each host five World Cup games during the North America’s Cup four years from now. Politicians in both cities have tried to sell taxpayers their plan to spend an absolute fortune to host just 17 percent of 2026 World Cup games. Toronto Mayor John Tory is trying to convince taxpayers that this is a huge boon for the city. “I think it’s going to be one of the biggest sporting events in the city’s history,” Tory said.

Toronto taxpayers are not so convinced. In all, the estimated cost of hosting 10 World Cup matches in Canada is approximately $600 million. And that’s before the cost overruns that everyone knows are coming. That’s $60 million per game.

What do the politicians claim will be the benefit?

According to the City of Toronto’s own projections, local businesses will see an inflow of $307 million from hosting the Games. That includes a “boost” of 3,300 jobs, most of which will likely be temporary. However, a report prepared for Toronto City Council this spring indicates that the cost to taxpayers of hosting the five Toronto Games will be $290 million. In other words, the economic gains the city expects are just $17 million more than the cost to taxpayers’ wallets. Does that sound like a great blessing for the city?

The city also — as governments tend to do — underestimates the costs and overstates the benefits. First, there is a trade-off cost. Instead of paying for 450 minutes of football, $290 million could buy 63,000 Torontonians with $750,000 homes a year’s property tax vacation.

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Second, the economic benefits are small at best. Research in the United States has found that hosting Super Bowl games provides only 10 percent of the economic benefits advertised by the NFL.

And then there are the cost overruns. The Vancouver 2010 Olympics had a cost overrun of 17 percent of the total budget, while the Calgary 1988 Olympics had a cost overrun of 59 percent. The 1976 Montreal Games probably still holds the Olympic record for transgressions. But even if the bill for hosting World Cup games in Toronto is just 6 percent over budget, that’s a dead end Everyone the indirect economic benefits expected by the city. And “budget government project” has been an oxymoron ever since the pyramids were built.

Does any of this sound like a prudent economic plan?

There’s another question: Why should taxpayers be on the hook? any Money when only a fraction of the expected economic gains result in more tax revenue? Not only is hosting the overall World Cup games likely to be a net loss, but the losses to taxpayers will be even more one-sided. A commitment to host the Games for potential corporate gains without regard to taxpayer costs is the very definition of corporate welfare.

Taxpayers in Toronto and Vancouver should be outraged. Under their charter, neither city can run an operating deficit, which means hosting the Games is paid for by higher taxes, reduced government services, or a little bit of both.

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But taxpayers outside of Toronto and Vancouver should also be outraged. The federal government will be raising about $200 million for Canada to host the 10 World Cup games, meaning taxpayers across the country will fund this fiscal bonanza.

Should taxpayers in Saskatoon or St. John’s be on the lookout for a handful of World Cup games in cities a thousand miles away? The obvious answer is no.

While Canada’s governments have been “awarded” World Cup games, no money has flowed out the door. Taxpayers should tell Canada’s politicians not to waste taxpayers’ money on their political vanity project. Canada should tear up the deal and let taxpayers in the United States and Mexico pay for the football fest.

Jay Goldberg is a director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in Ontario.

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