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Toronto councillors push for more oversight on rising cost of hosting FIFA World Cup | CBC News

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The rising cost to host six FIFA World Cup soccer games in Toronto will come before city councillors this week, with some focused on preventing the price tag from rising further.

Council will dig into a report that shows the cost to taxpayers to host the 2026 matches has jumped by $80 million. Late last month, city staff said that the price shot up because of a variety of factors including inflation, security costs and the city being awarded six games instead of five as initially expected. 

Coun. Paula Fletcher supported the bid to host World Cup but says she’s concerned about the cost escalation and that this might not be the end of it. In 2018, council was told the price to host the games would be between $30 million to $45 million. In 2023, the price was estimated at $300 million. It now sits at $380 million.

“I feel pretty frustrated,” she said. “I did not realize when I supported it that there was this many strings attached financially and that any shortfall would be the city’s.”

Toronto expects to see an economic boost of roughly $392 million in GDP and an additional $456 million for Ontario, according to the report. It also expects the games to create around 3,500 local jobs.

But with the FIFA agreement signed, there may be little councillors can do to change the deal except push to increase revenues from the games and constrain costs, Fletcher said. 

“That’s not taking away from any of the excitement of all of the soccer fans in the city of Toronto,” she said. “It’s a great night out. But the morning after, it’s going to be pretty hard.”

Earlier this month, Mayor Olivia Chow said she is trying to make the best of a difficult financial deal for the city. She expressed frustration that she has been “saddled” with the costs by past council decisions and has little recourse. 

“Will I want to see $380 million being spent on it? No,” she said. “Would I have signed the deal had… none of the provincial and the federal government contributions been locked down? No.”

The province has committed up to $97 million to pay for the games. The federal government has not made a firm commitment yet but city staff say they expect Ottawa to pay for at least 35 per cent of the total cost.

The cost escalations come less than a month after city council approved the largest property tax increase in decades to help address a $1.8 billion structural budget deficit.

Toronto Deputy Mayor Mike Colle says city council needs to improve oversight of the remaining negotiations on the FIFA World Cup to prevent further cost increases. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

More oversight needed over deal: Colle

Deputy Mayor Mike Colle supports hosting the games but is also concerned about potential cost increases over the next two years. Councillors need more oversight of the remaining negotiations, he said.

“It’s been very remote from council,” he said of the FIFA deal. “So, I know there’s a few of us that are very interested about getting more hands on with this thing, given the impact financially.”

Last month, Chow’s executive committee passed a motion to achieve that improved transparency. It will be considered by council this week.

Instead of granting city staff delegated authority to speed up negotiation of some remaining contracts, the mayor and council will have to be consulted on those deals over $500,000.

Colle stressed that the city must also approach the business community to contribute to sponsorships. 

“I just think we’ve got to be more aggressive, with the mayor’s help, and reaching out to some of the corporate and business interests that would benefit by this happening in Toronto,” he said.

York University marketing instructor Vijay Setlur said he hopes councillors can see hosting the games will have benefits. The games will both increase tourism in 2026 and over the long-term as the city is broadcast on the world stage, he said.

“We have to look at this from a short, medium and long-term perspective, not just the short-term expense, which is kind of myopic, in my opinion,” he said. “In the end, as the adage goes, you have to spend money to make money. And that means the return will not always be in the short-term.”

Setlur has done consulting work for CONCACAF, soccer’s government body for North, Central America and the Caribbean. And with over two years to go before the games he thinks there is still time to work on more community benefits that can last beyond the games.

“I’d like to think in the next two years that in order to make the deal more palatable to people who are on the opposite side, that more planning and more work could be done to enhance the legacy post-FIFA World Cup staging,” he said.

Not too late to improve community benefits: expert

David Roberts, an associate professor of urban studies at the University of Toronto, studied the impact the World Cup had on South Africa, when it hosted the event in 2010. He worked mainly with marginalized groups like street traders, homeless youth and subsistence fishermen who were hoping to see spillover effects from the tournament. 

“What I found is that usually doesn’t happen,” he said. “And most often, the World Cup exacerbates inequalities, exacerbates the worst forms of gentrification and usually comes with some aggressive forms of policing, especially of those who are visibly poor in public spaces.”

Roberts said he’s concerned about the secrecy surrounding the deal and the limited long-term community benefits in what information has been made public so far. There’s still time to create additional benefits and involve marginalized communities, but that effort needs to begin now, he said.

“Sure, it’s a fun party,” he said. “But if we want something more than just having a fun party, we actually have to put in the work. And I haven’t yet seen that work, to be honest. Even the details of these new estimated costs are pretty scant.”

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