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BC taxpayer group calls foul over potential FIFA World Cup cost

The City of Toronto revealed the latest price tag for hosting the World Cup is now $380 million — $80 million more than the estimate

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A taxpayer group in B.C. is blowing the whistle on the potential for ballooning costs to host 2026 FIFA World Cup games in Vancouver.

B.C.’s sports minister wouldn’t release updated costs, but warned that the figure has “changed substantially” from the $240 million to $260 million projected when Vancouver won the bid in 2022.

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The City of Toronto revealed this week the cost of hosting the international soccer tournament is now $380 million, well above the $300 million estimate when the city was named a host two years ago.

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Toronto’s city manager said in a report released Tuesday that the $80 million increase is due to Toronto being awarded a sixth group stage match, one more than originally planned, and updated vendor quotes, safety and security upgrades and inflationary uncertainty.

Toronto and Vancouver are the Canadian cities selected to host World Cup matches, which will also be played across the U.S. and Mexico.

When Vancouver was named one of the host cities in 2022, the province estimated the cost for planning, staging and hosting the World Cup would be $240 million to $260 million. The city’s costs were expected to be roughly half that amount, based on what a press release called “a very preliminary assessment of hosting requirements.”

However, Lana Popham, B.C.’s minister for tourism, arts, culture and sport, told reporters on Tuesday “the numbers have changed substantially since we have received news of getting two more games.”

Popham was repeatedly asked why the province has yet to release the updated price tag for hosting the games.

She said the province was unable to make cost estimates until FIFA released the game schedule earlier this month, giving Vancouver seven games, up from five.

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“Our commitment is to be completely transparent along the way,” said Popham, but added that it could be months before B.C. taxpayers know what they’re on the hook for.

The Canadian Taxpayer Federation’s B.C. director said that’s not good enough and called on the province and City of Vancouver to release cost estimates.

“It’s outrageous for minister Popham and Mayor Ken Sim to be hiding these costs from taxpayers,” said Carson Binda.

The Vancouver Sun has previously requested Vancouver’s contract with FIFA through a freedom of information request but the city refused to release it.

Binda said Vancouver and the province should follow Seattle’s lead and release the full contract with FIFA.

“There is no excuse for the lack of transparency that’s being demonstrated here.”

Estimates for the City of Vancouver’s portion of the cost has increased from a “very preliminary assessment of hosting requirements” of $120-$130 million in March 2022, to $230 million in January 2023 — an increase of more than 75 per cent over 14 months.

That $230 million figure was calculated with the expectation that Vancouver would host five games and no new cost figures were provided by the city this week based on the new seven-game schedule. A spokesperson said the city will “update these estimates.”

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The news of two additional Vancouver matches was hailed by many, including Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim, who wrote on X at the time that he was “stoked to officially be hosting seven epic matches.”

This week, Sim said that while the city anticipates costs will be higher than the $230 million estimate, the city is “exploring increased revenue opportunities from commercial partners and match day sales.”

In an email, Sim said the city expects an influx of more than 900,000 visitors during and in the five years following the tournament, “providing a significant boost to our tourism sector and supporting local job creation.”

Vancouver’s 2023 cost estimate included, among other items, $73 million for safety and security, $40 million for venues, $20 million for a “FIFA Fan Festival,” $14 million for traffic and stadium zone management, and $8 million for insurance.

Vancouver expects to help fund the cost of hosting the tournament through a new city tax — enabled by 2022 provincial legislation and brought into effect February 2023 — that charges an extra $2.50 on every $100 guests pay for short-term accommodations such as hotels in the city.

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Green Couns. Pete Fry and Adriane Carr, two of Vancouver’s three councillors not affiliated with Sim’s ABC party, said they look forward to the event and the public should be confident that the city will deliver a safe, well-managed event.

Fry added he’s “frustrated that the costs associated with FIFA World Cup aren’t being more transparently presented, but its complicated by confidentiality agreements and the multiple partners involved in funding and producing the event.”

Carr said she is “super-keen” on the tournament coming to Vancouver, but does have concerns about the impact of a potential surge in short-term rentals on the city’s housing market.

There was only one line in the 2024 provincial budget that mentioned the World Cup and it was under “risks to the fiscal plan.” The budget says the province’s $10.6 billion contingency fund over the next three years can be used to cover “uncertain costs such as the upcoming FIFA World Cup matches in 2026, where plans and costs are still being developed and refined with partners.”

B.C. United finance critic Peter Milobar said Popham’s argument that the addition of two games is to blame for uncertainty around the costs “doesn’t hold water.”

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Many of the capital costs like stadium upgrades and adding temporary hospitality suites and fan zones will be spent regardless of the number of games, he said.

“It all seems like it should be pretty straightforward,” Milobar said. “It really does make one wonder what exactly they’re trying to hide and why they don’t want to talk about it.”

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