Saturday, May 04, 2024

Toronto's huge World Cup bill (partly) due to FIFA's overreach

The World Cup is coming to Toronto. This is not news, having been known since the USA/Mexico/Canada joint bid was accepted back in 2018, and the host cities were announced in 2022. Most people were probably agreeably disposed to it at that point although, even then, a sizeable minority were against it. Much as I like soccer, I was one of them.

Fast forward six years, and the bill for our tiny share of the huge 2026 extravaganza has ballooned. Did no-one else see that coming?

And when I say "ballooned", I mean ballooned. Like at least 10-fold. The original bid envisaged costs of $30-45 million for the five games then envisaged, an obvious under-estimate even then. We are now looking at $380 million for six games in Toronto, with plenty of time for that sum to increase still further. I recently drove past the Toronto stadium with friend and avid soccer fan, and he merely said "is that it?" (the stadium will need many improvements and extensions).

Mayor Olivia Chow, who is upfront in admitting that she would not have allowed the bid had she been Mayor at the time, has been desperately scrambling to obtain promises of funding from other levels of government, and she has managed to wrangle $97 million from the Ontario provincial government and now another $104 million from the federal government. However, that still leaves Toronto on the hook for nearly half of the total sum, and even recent hefty property tax increases are not going to make much of a dent in that kind of bill.

Part of the huge cost increase has arisen from FIFA's ever-changing demands. The city insists that it did not just write a blank cheque, but there seems to be a lot of FIFA requirements that were not spelled out in the initial negotiations - or were kept secret from its taxpayers - requirements that the host cities are just expected to cover. 

In addition to the stadium rebuild, FIFA mandates: free transit tickets for game attendees and media, and extended transit hours on game days; free office space and equipment "of the highest quality" for FIFA officials; the covering of any municipal taxes FIFA may incur; extensive city beautification measures (including covering up construction projects in progress); a huge FIFA Fan Fest event; late night opening for bars, restaurants and stores on game days; the removal of commercial signage and advertising in the area around the stadium on game days; the list goes on. They also tried to force Toronto not to host any other "substantial cultural events" while the games are on, but the city pushed back against that one.

*Sigh* I suppose we should be grateful we are not Vancouver. They are on the hook for $581 million for the seven games they are to host.

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