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Baldrey: Let's put Vancouver's 2026 FIFA World Cup spending into context

Columnist Keith Baldrey believes putting B.C. back into the international spotlight will generate more positives for the province.
Vancouver will host seven games, including a knockout match, for the Men's 2026 FIFA World Cup. The B.C. government estimates the total cost will be between $483 million and $581 million. | File photo

Come on now, did anyone really believe the original cost estimate for co-hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2026?

I mean really, did the original estimate of about $250 million strike anyone as even remotely realistic?

The cost is now pegged at a low of $483 million and a high of $581 million, according to a provincial government release last week. Rest assured; the final tally will likely exceed the higher total because it almost always does with these huge events.

However, that doesn’t mean the three levels of government (provincial, federal and the City of Vancouver) shouldn’t be spending this considerable amount of tax dollars on just seven soccer games, because a lot of factors are at play that transcend what happens on the soccer pitch.

While about 350,000 people are expected to visit B.C. Place stadium to watch a match, the overall impact of the World Cup is forecast to bring more than one million out-of-province visitors over the next five years, during which they will spend about $1 billion dollars over the next five years.

Some of the revenue projections seem fairly rosy (will $1 billion really be generated?) but there is no question there will be a significantly large and positive impact on the provincial economy, particularly the tourism sector.

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim, who was at the news conference where the report was released, said the games will be “a month-long commercial” for his city, and will draw huge numbers of visitors in subsequent years.

According to the report, the revenues applied against the event will be in the range of $383 million to $436 million, bringing the “net” cost down to $100 million to $145 million. The biggest source of revenue appears to a new 2.5 per cent tax on overnight stays in Vancouver by travelers.

While some may think there are better priorities than a sporting event when it comes to spending $500 million in tax money, it is important to put that amount of spending in context.

Over the next three years, the B.C. government alone will spend about $270 billion on programs and services and a further $45 billion on capital projects. That kind of spending dwarfs $500 million.

The World Cup will be the third huge international event to be hosted in B.C. The other two were Expo 86 and the 2010 Winter Olympics, both stunning events that transfixed the city and the province.

The City of Victoria hosted the 1994 Commonwealth Games, and they not only transformed the capital region but gave local residents the sense their city had somehow matured and put the dated cliché of being a place for the “newly wed and the newly dead” in the rear-view mirror forever.

The FIFA event also has the strong support of three local First Nations: Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, who will form partnerships with the other levels of government.

Yes, hosting the World Cup will cost lots of money, probably more than what is forecast. Yes, there will be unforeseen problems that creep up.

But a month spent in the world spotlight, being associated with the biggest sporting event in the world with billions of people witnessing the spectacle will generate way more positives than negatives.

Bring on the World Cup!

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.