If the Australian state of Victoria can withdraw from being the sole host of the 2026 Commonwealth Games, Toronto can pull out from hosting less than 10 per cent of the 2026 World Cup games. Pictured is an artist rendering of a FIFA-ready expanded BMO Field. Photo credit: BMO Field
It’s time for the doubters to admit they’re wrong: Toronto can pull out of hosting a handful of World Cup games in 2026 because of the soaring and uncontrolled costs we all know will be coming.
Many cynics have insisted Toronto’s bid to host between five and eight World Cup games three years from now is a done deal. Even though there hasn’t been money yet out the door and the city hasn’t come to an agreement with the province and the feds.
The naysayers will still admit that the price tag is high. They might admit that economic benefits aren’t all that significant. And some will even quietly acknowledge that it’s unfair to stick taxpayers with a $290-million bill as prices and interest rates continue to remain high. But many suggest taxpayers should just throw up their hands and cave in.
Here’s the reality: those folks are wrong.
The Australian state of Victoria just cancelled its plans to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games due to soaring costs. When Victoria first agreed to host the tournament, organizers originally pegged the event’s cost at $2.6 billion Australian dollars (about $2.3 billion Canadian). But now, still three years out from the event, the price tag has more than doubled to $6 billion Australian dollars.
Wisely, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said that while his state was willing to host the games, he could not agree to do so “at any price.”
The cost increase shouldn’t be surprising. The 2010 Vancouver Olympics saw cost overruns of 17 per cent. The 1988 Calgary Olympics went 59 per cent over budget. And when Russia hosted the World Cup in 2018, costs were double what was originally projected. Virtually every sports tournament hosted anywhere has had cost overruns as far as the eye can see.
Where does Toronto fit in this narrative?
The city did its own economic analysis. City bureaucrats say that as of now, hosting a handful of World Cup games in 2026 will cost taxpayers $290 million and yield just $307 million in economic benefits for local businesses. That means that a cost overrun of just $17 million, or 5.8 per cent, will mean FIFA will be a money loser for Toronto.
And keep in mind that all the costs fall on taxpayers while all the benefits go to businesses. This is a textbook case of corporate welfare.
So, if Victoria can withdraw from being the sole host of the 2026 Commonwealth Games, why can’t Toronto pull out from hosting less than 10 per cent of the 2026 World Cup games?
The answer is that the city can. Money hasn’t gone out the door. BMO Field hasn’t yet been renovated. Tickets haven’t been sold.
Having some World Cup games here in Toronto would be a nice thing. But, as the Victorian premier put it, not “at any price.”
Victoria cancelling hosting the Commonwealth Games could in fact give Toronto’s new mayor, Olivia Chow, some negotiating power. She should turn to the private sector and get sponsorships to cover the bill.
Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, the managers of BMO Field, should be asked to foot the bill for arena renovations that will benefit that company for years to come. And Chow can ask FIFA to come to the table and share ticket sales revenue with the city. As of right now, all ticket sale revenues are going to FIFA.
FIFA expects to make more than $14 billion from the 2026 tournament. The least the organization could do is cut the cities hosting the games a share of its ticket sales.
The bottom line is that if Chow can get a better deal for Toronto, that’s great. If she can’t, she should follow in the footsteps of the Victorian premier and pull the plug.
Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He previously served as a policy fellow at the Munk School of Public Policy and Global Affairs. Jay holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto.