'Not sure there's much choice': Chow says she’s reviewing Toronto's secret deal to host FIFA games, but ink already dry
Published Thursday, August 24, 2023 5:34PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 24, 2023 5:52PM EDT
Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow says she is trying to make agreements over the city’s 2026 FIFA bid more transparent, but said they were already signed before she came to office and the city must now do its best to realize any economic benefits from the games.
“I have asked for all the budgets. I will examine the budget very carefully. We will make sure that no money is wasted,” Chow told reporters. “As you know the bid has been awarded.”
Toronto and Vancouver are set to host several 2026 World Cup Games as part of a joint bid between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
However there have been questions around the transparency of the bid and whether the city could be left footing the bill for cost overruns.
A report in the Toronto Star Thursday said the terms of the contracts with FIFA compel the city to keep the details secret.
“I'm waiting to see the contract myself. I have now seen a copy of the budget and I will seek to see whether I can make the budget public,” Chow told reporters Thursday. “Of course all of this is through negotiation with both FIFA and a letter of intent with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. So there are multiple parties involved. I am actively trying to push for as much transparency as possible so that we can collectively say ‘this is a good bid, good agreements and let's move forward.’ I am not there yet, but we shall see.”
But while Chow said she is pushing for more transparency, she acknowledged there may not be much that can be done to change the agreements now.
“I'm not sure there's much choice out there ahead of us, other than working hard to make sure no money is wasted,” she said. “And promoting it so people can join in and encouraging sponsors to support the city – do some sponsorships so there’s legacy coming out of this bid, whether it’s a training centre or some soccer clubs can get new uniforms, any number of things that could happen hopefully.”
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation renewed a call Thursday for the games to be cancelled.
“The city shouldn’t put taxpayers on the hook for a secret FIFA deal,” CTF Ontario Director Jay Goldberg said. “It’s taxpayers’ money, so we deserve to see the details. And if this is such a good deal, then why won’t the city be transparent with taxpayers?”
Because the deal is secret., it’s not clear what penalties might be involved if the city were to pull out.
The estimated cost for hosting the five games is $300 million, with the city expected to chip in around $90 million.
According to the city, the province and the federal government are expected to cover around two thirds of the total cost, but that commitment has not been finalized.
“We're very actively discussing that and as soon as I have an update, I’ll make sure people know. We'll make that public,” Chow said when asked about cost-sharing talks with the other levels of government.
Chow acknowledged that spending money to host the international sporting event might raise eyebrows at a time when the city is facing serious financial turmoil.
However she said the deals were signed before she came to office and said the event could still bring in money through tourism.
“But it will generate economic growth in many ways, which is why you see other countries, other cities bidding on it,” Chow said. “When Canada, Mexico and U.S. collectively said ‘we'll have a united bid’ therefore the City of Toronto participated together with the British Columbia government through Vancouver. So now that we have the bid, let us move forward and see what benefits we can get out of it.”
According to a 2022 projection from the city, FIFA World Cup 2026 is expected to create 3,300 jobs, book 292,000 visitor room nights with projected Municipal Accommodation Tax (MAT) revenues of $3.5 million, and generate $307 million in GDP for Toronto.