Opinion: Ka-ching! The high public cost of hosting the 2026 World Cup

Opinion: Thanks to Toronto, the people of Vancouver now have a rough idea of ​​the true cost of hosting five World Cup games in 2026. And that’s a lot.

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Thank heaven for Toronto, which is rarely said when you live out west.

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Why? Because the last time we heard about Vancouver hosting five games of the 2026 World Cup was June 16th.

And pretty much all we heard at the time was the cheers of Deputy Mayor Sarah Kirby-Yung, BC Sports Secretary Melanie Mark and a small group of friends echoing through the nearly empty BC Place Stadium after FIFA announced that Vancouver (followed by Toronto) is among the stadium’s 16 host cities.

Who knows what has been said about it at City Hall or in Mark’s ministry since then.

Luckily, much can be found by searching the Toronto City Council minutes. Because of the Toronto City Council, Vancouver residents must face the fact that they may be on the hook for at least $100 million, according to the estimate Toronto city councilors received from staff in a July report.

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The report points out that the city alone would cost $77.1 million to upgrade the training facilities and infrastructure for the “Fanfest” required to host the full 32 days of the global tournament. Another $24 million would be needed to cover “city benefits in kind,” including improved transportation, traffic management, local police and emergency services.

But that’s just the city’s share. The total “expected” cost of hosting five FIFA games is “approximately $300 million,” with “expectations” that two-thirds of that would be borne by the Ontario and Canadian governments.

The council then instructed the staff to set about negotiating and concluding agreements with the higher levels of government. Staff were also asked to: restructure current and future operating budgets to reflect World Cup spending; find other partners and sponsors to share costs; establishment of a WM secretariat; initiate discussions with the local transport authority; and sign back with a Community Benefits Plan by early next year.

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Which begs the question of why there is a cone of silence at Vancouver City Hall. I suspect the answer is that our politicians have put us under too much obligation to host sporting events that cost significantly more per capita than Toronto.

In Toronto, $100 million is shared among 2.93 million people. Assuming similar costs here, the burden falls to 675,218 people. At the provincial level, BC pays 5.2 million people and Ontario pays 15 million.

But the bigger factor is that Toronto isn’t targeting a $4 billion bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics. It is also not required to host the 2023 Laver Cup tennis tournament and the 2025 Invictus Games.

That over-commitment was referenced last month in a highly critical report by Vancouver’s City Manager, which called on the city council to scrap the 2030 Olympics bid over potentially “unlimited financial risks” and an understaffed and overworked staff accused of to give up pulling off all these big events.

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What is no different is that buried in the Toronto report are the exponentially increasing costs each time high-profile sporting events are awarded.

Toronto’s estimated cost of signing the FIFA hosting agreement in 2018 was $45 million. Today it is more than fourfold.

In May, when Toronto’s cost was “only” estimated at $93.8 million, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart told reporters his recommendation to the city council was that only $5 million was needed to host the World Cup.

If his recommendation was ever discussed, it was behind closed doors. If there have been staff reports before or since, they have never been made public. When they were discussed, it was done behind closed doors. And the host city agreement signed in January 2018 remains a secret. The city responded to my freedom of information request on the last possible day – 30 business days after submission – by saying that the city needs another 30 days to find out if FIFA is willing to have the information because it is an agreement with Third party acts published.

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As for the cost, the British Columbians only have the sports minister’s comments saying it will range between $240 million and $260 million – estimates that have come with supporting documents.

Maybe it’s not entirely Mark’s fault. She was not the minister in 2018 when hosting the World Cup was first discussed. Nor was it on the record when Premier John Horgan withdrew Vancouver a few months later.

Horgan said at the time that he would not sign the blank check he was asking FIFA to do. He wasn’t alone.

Quebec withdrew its support for the Montreal bid in early 2021 after the estimated cost more than doubled to $103 million in three years.

But Horgan had a change of heart this February after Soccer Canada and FIFA asked BC to reconsider. The Prime Minister passed it on to Mark to deal with even though she was in the midst of a controversy over the proposed $789 million expansion of the Royal BC Museum.

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A month later, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney pledged $110 million to support Edmonton’s bid, conditional on winning five of Canada’s ten games, including two of the knockout rounds.

With FIFA yet to announce fixture schedules and locations, it’s hard to tell if BC got a good deal or if that $260 million – let alone BC’s forecast of $1 billion in economic benefits – are more than magical thinking.

A billion dollars, really? That’s triple Toronto’s estimate and almost 10 times more than expected in Seattle, another of the 16 host cities.

With a local election in October and rumors of a provincial election soon after Horgan’s successor was elected in December, it’s time for transparency.

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