Sports

Cost of World Cup games in Vancouver has doubled, officials admit

The updated estimate released Tuesday is between $483 million and $581 million to host seven matches.

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The public cost for B.C. hosting part of the 2026 FIFA World Cup could exceed half a billion dollars — more than double the early estimates released two years ago.

In 2022, when Vancouver was named one of 16 host cities in North America, the B.C. government said the estimated costs for planning, staging and hosting five 2026 World Cup matches would be $240 million to $260 million. The updated estimate released Tuesday is between $483 million and $581 million to host seven matches.

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Representatives of the governments of B.C. and Vancouver released the updated numbers on Tuesday.

Hosting the international soccer tournament will provide “a massive, massive opportunity” to boost Vancouver’s economy and “highlight the best city on the planet,” Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim said at the news conference on the field at B.C. Place Stadium.

“We are in a competitive situation with cities and places around the globe for tourist dollars. … It’s going to be a month-long commercial. The whole world is going to be watching Vancouver.”

Sim said he has a “gut feel” that the benefits presented in Tuesday’s updates are “understated.”

“We’re going to have more than a million visitors here, we’re going to have more than a billion dollars in economic activity,” Sim said. “The payoff is huge.”

The World Cup will provide a major boon for a local hospitality and tourism industry that has still not fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, said B.C. Tourism Minister Lana Popham.

Asked about why hosting cost projections had increased so much over the past two years, Popham said: “We feel very confident that what we’ve put forward today is accurate, and we believe taxpayers will be getting the most for that money.”

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Canada’s sport minister, Carla Qualtrough, was also on hand to announce the federal government’s contribution of $116 million to support operational and construction costs associated with the tournament.

“FIFA 2026 will unite our country like nothing else can, bringing us together through our love of sport and healthy competition,” Qualtrough said.

“In 2026, the world will feel right at home here. Perhaps most importantly, FIFA 2026 will inspire our kids to dream big.”

The cost — what the government calls “gross core hosting costs” — breaks down like this:

• For PavCo, the provincial Crown corporation that owns and operates B.C. Place, between $149 million and $196 million, which includes upgrades and operations during the tournament.

• For the province of B.C., between $88 million and $109 million, which includes security, transportation, health services and emergency management.

• For the City of Vancouver, between $246 million and $276 million, which includes security, hosting the “FIFA Fan Festival” and traffic and stadium zone management.

B.C. United’s shadow minister for jobs, small business and economic development, MLA Todd Stone, criticized the doubling of the budget and lack of transparency over B.C.’s agreements with FIFA.

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“I think taxpayers are going to have a few questions … when they realize that the overall project cost for FIFA, in a little over a year, has actually skyrocketed by more than double to an upper-end cost of $600 million. That’s a heck of an increase in a very short period of time,” said Stone at a post-announcement media availability.

He called out Premier David Eby for promising to release all agreements signed with the international soccer body but failing to release those publicly.

“That’s an important aspect of transparency and accountability, especially when you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Stone. He said Soccer Canada officials recently characterized working with the NDP on the event has been “like negotiating with hillbillies.”

The government said the gross cost of as much as $581 million will be offset by between $383 million and $436 million in estimated “revenues and recoveries,” for a net cost to provincial taxpayers of between $100 million and $143 million.

Those revenues and recoveries include an estimated $230 million from an extra 2.5 per cent tax applied to hotel visitors in Vancouver for seven years, between $16 million and $46 million in venue rental fees, and the initial $116 million contribution from the federal government, with additional federal contributions expected.

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Vancouver and Toronto are the two Canadian cities selected to host matches for the 2026 World Cup, which will also include games in 14 other cities in the U.S. and Mexico.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation called on the city and province to control the “skyrocketing costs” of hosting the tournament.

“Mayor Ken Sim and Premier David Eby have scored a financial own-goal,” said Carson Binda, B.C. director for the Taxpayers Federation.

“Sim and Eby need to be honest about how much FIFA is really going to cost taxpayers. … The province is playing fast and loose with their financial projections.”

Those millions could instead be spent on hiring hundreds of teachers, building new schools, or cutting taxes for B.C. families and small businesses, the Federation’s statement said.

“The more money that’s wasted on FIFA, the less money that can support British Columbians,” Binda said.

The provincial government’s economic forecasts, based on an estimated 350,000 event visitors to B.C. Place during the World Cup, include $1 billion added to the province’s GDP during the tournament and over the next five years.

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The work planned for B.C. Place includes upgrades to athlete facilities, hospitality spaces, and installing a natural grass pitch to meet FIFA requirements. The pitch may revert to an artificial turf surface following the tournament.

With files from Joseph Ruttle

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