BARRIO (CTV) – A taxpayers’ advocacy group wants Toronto’s incoming mayor to give the city’s plan to host a handful of games during the 2026 World Cup the red card.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) is calling on Olivia Chow to cancel the more than $100 million the city was set to spend to host between five and eight games during the 39-day tournament.
Instead the non-profit organization says Toronto should “re-allocate the money to other pressing priorities” and do the “financially responsible thing and withdraw its bid” unless enough private sector sponsorship and partnerships are secured to make up the difference.
“By cancelling the city’s plans to pay for Toronto to host a handful of World Cup games, Chow could leave more money in taxpayers’ pockets or pay for over 90 per cent of her promised Secure Affordable Housing Fund for one year,” Jay Goldberg, CTF’s Ontario and Interim Atlantic Director, said in a news release.
When the City of Toronto initially expressed interest in hosting World Cup games back in 2018, the cost to taxpayers was estimated between $30 and $45 million.
But those costs have since risen with the city now expected to fork over $77.1 million, along with another $24 million in services in kind.
Goldberg said Chow has made “hundreds of millions of dollars” of election promises and there needs to be a way to pay for them, especially with Toronto facing a $933 million budget deficit due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re coming out to say: ‘Look, she’s gonna need to find a way to pay for it.’ And one of the ways to do that is to, you know, make an alternative choice here with the World Cup games,” he told CP24.
“Here’s one way she could save some cash. … Look people have lost their job. They’re finding it hard to make ends meet. Twenty per cent of Canadians are skipping meals because they can’t afford to pay for every meal and we’re talking about spending all this money on the World Cup. I just think it’s the wrong priority. And I think that Olivia Chow can come in and make a statement as a breath of fresh breath air.”
The city plans to spend $15 million to upgrade sports fields at Sunnybrook and Centennial parks for guest team training purposes as well as another $25 million to increase capacity at BMO Field.
Speaking with CP24, Goldberg noted that with the current plans it will cost taxpayers $644,000 for every minute that a team is on BMO Field.
He also noted that it’s not uncommon for cost overruns for such major events.
“Hosting these games is almost always, if not always, a big money loser for cities. If you combine what we’re expected to spend already at all three levels of government, you’re looking at $300 million,” he said.
WILL OTHER GOVERNMENTS COME TO THE TABLE?
The city’s World Cup plan was based on an assumption that other levels of government would step forward to cover more than $200 million in additional costs.
But so far neither the province or the federal government have made a formal funding commitment.
“I am seeking the federal and the provincial government to really look at this bid and provide support because it’s supposed to be a tripartite agreement. It really should not be up to the taxpayers of Toronto to shoulder the entire bid,” Chow told reporters on Monday.
“So, the bid has been signed. I do not know at this point, precisely what one could do. I will look into it, but most importantly, I am seeking the federal and provincial government to join the City of Toronto.”
According to a Feb. 10 letter of intent that was obtained by CTV News Toronto, the city will be footing the bill for the improvements to BMO Field, while its partner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment stands to make millions without taking on any risk in hosting the global competition.
Net revenue generated by the games is set to be split between MLSE and the city to a maximum of $10 million, according to the document. Any money made on top of that will be split 60/40 to the city’s benefit.
MLSE said it expects only to recoup the operational costs that come with getting the stadium up to FIFA standards, but would share the revenue generated from sponsoring the event with the city.
The games are expected to produce $307 million in gross domestic product, create 3,300 jobs and bring with it 174,000 overnight visitors.
“The idea of Toronto hosting some World Cup games sounds fun, but not if it means hammering Torontonians with even higher taxes,” Goldberg said.
“Chow should pull the plug on former mayor John Tory’s FIFA pipedream and save taxpayers a boatload of cash.”