‘If I had that number, I would share it’: B.C. FIFA costs still unclear but expected soon, says minister

Just over two years away from kick off for the 2026 FIFA World Cup at BC Place, but the provincial government still hasn’t announced a budget. Monika Gul reports.

The B.C. government is under mounting pressure to publicly provide new estimates around how much hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup will cost, but the minister responsible says the numbers just aren’t ready.

In an interview Thursday, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Lana Popham said the ministry is being as forthcoming as it can be.

“I think people should understand: if I had that number, I would share it, because we’re going to be completely transparent. There’s a lot that’s changed since 2022 and there’s a lot that’s changed just in the last few weeks,” she explained.

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“We didn’t expect to get seven games, so what seven games means to the province is that the costs are going to go up because everything we were trying to figure out with five games, like security, etcetera, is now up by two. So we have to rework those numbers.”

In June 2022, the province estimated costs of hosting the World Cup would be between $240 million and $260 million. However, that was when Vancouver was slated to host five games, not seven. Inflation rates have also risen since then.

Popham says B.C. wasn’t given heads up about additional FIFA games

A recent report to the Toronto Mayor’s Executive Committee showed that “current projections estimate operating and capital costs incurred locally” will be around $380 million — $80 million higher than the initial projection. When asked for an update earlier this week, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport told CityNews it continues to work with its partners to further the estimates for planning, staging, and hosting seven World Cup matches.

“Of course there are inflationary costs that everybody’s facing in every other part of the world with everything. So I’m going to be able to share those numbers soon but I literally don’t have the number to share. I’m not hiding anything,” Popham told CityNews Thursday, adding the additional two games surprised the province just as much as it did everyone else.

“You don’t get a heads up,” she explained.

“We were on the edge of our seats just like everybody else. Once that news broke, it was so exciting and, in some ways, it’s a great relief. The expense will go up, for sure, but also the economic opportunity for us goes up. So these are games that people don’t want to miss and we are going to see thousands of more people arrive, which also means that we’re going to extend our tourism season into July.”

She says all of this is good news for businesses that also rely on tourism, adding the World Cup presents an opportunity to get people into other parts of B.C., too.

“Those are the numbers we’re trying to run right now and it’s a complicated equation. We feel pretty confident we’ll have that in the next couple weeks,” the minister said.

BC United questions lack of estimates

BC United is the latest group to urge the province to release the latest figures, with the party leader Kevin Falcon says the government needs to be more transparent.

“They cannot even provide the public a ballpark estimate of what they think FIFA is going to cost British Columbians? The minister responsible, herself, said they have a rough idea of what it’s going to be — well, then let us know,” Falcon said Thursday in response to questions from CityNews during a media availability.

His comments came before Popham spoke with CityNews.

“I just don’t understand why they won’t be transparent, but my suspicion is this: they’re not being transparent because this thing is going to be wildly overbudget. They said it was going to be $250 million. Look for it to double that figure, because that is the experience with this provincial government on virtually every single capital program they’re involved with — massively over budget, way behind schedule, a huge waste of taxpayer dollars, I think we’ll see it again,” Falcon continued.

When asked whether he feels the election is playing a role in the B.C. government remaining tight-lipped around estimates, Falcon was clear.

“Yes. The Canadian Association of Journalists have said that this is the most secretive government in Canada, and I have no doubt that they will try and bury that bad news as best they can. Look for it to come out probably on a Friday night — knowing David Eby as I do, he likes to release bad news on the Friday nights of long weekends, and I suspect that’s when you’ll probably find out about this cost over run,” he said.

The Ministry of Tourism has said preliminary estimates have suggested that hosting just five matches could bring more than 900,000 additional visitors during and in the five years following the tournament, and more than $1 billion in additional visitor spending.

Economic impacts vs revenue

However, Tsur Somerville, a professor and expert in economics and real estate at UBC, says, “the economic impacts of these big events always underestimate the cost and overestimate the revenue growth.”

“Basically, the only positive economic impact is an increase in construction employment,” said Somerville, who studied the economic effects of the Olympics on Vancouver.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation raised concerns around transparency, pushing the province to release estimated costs.

“Vancouver taxpayers deserve accountability when hundreds of millions are on the line,” B.C. Director Carson Binda said.

In an interview with CityNews, Binda noted his doubts around the overall economic impact the World Cup would have.

“That’s still money going out of taxpayers’ pockets, going towards FIFA, going towards these big corporations that are going to profit, and it’s less money that normal folks, normal Vancouverites, and normal British Columbians have to contribute to their local economies and to make ends meet,” he said.

-With files from Monika Gul

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