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Tourism minister says cost of B.C. hosting World Cup grew ‘substantially’

Lana Popham has a ‘ballpark figure’ but won’t release it until staff has completed work

B.C.’s tourism minister said the cost of hosting the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup has gone up, but she is not prepared to share those figures with the public yet.

“The numbers have changed substantially since we have received news of getting two more games (from the initial five),” Lana Popham acknowledged Tuesday (Feb. 27). “(So) we don’t have any working number today to give you but we’ll have that soon.”

Popham acknowledged that she has a “ballpark” figure of the additional costs, but she added that she was not prepared to give that figure right now. Staff are working on final numbers, she said.

“But I will repeat that those two extra games give us a bigger advantage.”

Popham made those comments after Toronto’s cost of hosting six games is estimated to go up by $80 million to almost $380 million with the city now hosting six rather than five games.

Provincial government estimates from 2022 pegged the cost of hosting five games in Vancouver between $240 and $260 million. But those figures appeared before FIFA changed the format of the tournament in March 2023 by adding another knock-out round to accommodate a larger field and ensure the integrity of games in the competition’s group stage.

While each of the seven world cup tournaments between 1998 and 2022 featured 32 teams, the 2026 tournament co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada will have 48.

Released last week, B.C.’s 2024 budget does not include any figures for hosting games in Vancouver, but mentions the competition within the context of contingencies.

RELATED: 7-year-long Vancouver hotel tax to start in February to help pay for 2026 FIFA World Cup

It includes $10 billion in contingencies over three years, including $3.7 billion for the fiscal year of 2026/27, when Vancouver would host its seven games.

“The contingencies’ allocation also funds programs or initiatives with uncertain costs such as the upcoming FIFA World Cup matches in 2026, where plans and costs are still being developed and refined with partners,” it reads. Contingencies have historically covered unexpected events and emergencies, such as wildfires, droughts and so on.

Destination BC has estimated the global soccer tournament could draw an additional 269,000 visitors to the province, with about 50 per cent of them from outside Canada and the U.S. The province said earlier that the event could generate up to $1 billion in returns. The event also has the backing of current Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim, who called the event an “extraordinary” opportunity.

But these promises of future gains co-exist with concerns about large sporting events exceeding their budgets and leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.

The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation has already raised concerns, lamenting the introduction of a seven-year hotel tax in Vancouver effective since 2023 to help pay for upgrades.

“After years of lockdowns which hit the tourism sector hard, the province has decided to make it even more difficult for Vancouver’s hotels to stay afloat,” Carson Binda, B.C.’s director for the organization, said. “If the province truly believed it could turn a profit from playing host to FIFA, it wouldn’t be punishing Vancouver businesses with a brand new tax grab.”

Binda also questioned why the province is spending money on hosting a sporting event when other issues are more pressing.

“British Columbians are struggling, and instead of providing the tax relief that families and workers so desperately need, the mayor and premier are burning money on a World Cup vanity project,” Binda said.

While B.C. had initially backed out of possibly hosting games, the province changed course in 2021 and became an official host city in 2022.

It found out in early February 2024 that it would host seven games, including Canada’s second and third group-stage matches against yet-to-be-determined opponents June 18 and June 24, 2026.

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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