Vaughn Palmer: I’m surprised to learn that the World Cup bill has doubled

Opinion: The latest estimate indicates that the FIFA tournament could cost up to $341 million more than the low estimate from just two years ago.

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VICTORIA — Well, I’m shocked, shocked, to learn that it will cost a lot more to stage seven World Cup matches in Vancouver than the politicians let on when they were closing the deal with FIFA, soccer’s greedy international watchdog.

British Columbia Tourism Minister Lana Popham and Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim unveiled the latest estimate this week, admitting it could cost up to $581 million, $341 million more than the low estimate of $240 million. dollars from just two years ago.

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Popham promised the update two months ago. “We don’t have a working number today, but we will soon,” he told reporters on February 27. “We know, in general, how much sporting events cost, and that’s why my team is crunching those numbers.”

Crunching the numbers took longer than expected. Two more games were added to the schedule, the team had to pay for FIFA demands and other factors.

“We wanted to make sure we had accurate numbers on British Columbians,” the tourism minister said Tuesday.

So is this reliable to take to the bank?

“We are very confident in the numbers we presented today,” Popham told reporters. “We’ve really left room for contingencies, we’ve taken inflation into account, so we believe the budget we presented today is the most accurate.”

However, the fine print of its own filing acknowledged that the figures (from a low of $483 million to a high of $581 million) were subject to change.

These are “cost estimates,” which reflect “point-based assumptions and planning uncertainties,” based on “what we know today.”

The province listed about a dozen factors that could force reviews, including a higher-than-expected inflation rate, disruption to supply chains and the cost of providing security in a dangerous world.

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Then there is FIFA. The organization has already placed significant demands on the city and provincially owned host stadium BC Place in contracts that have not been shared with the public.

There could well be more to come, as visiting FIFA executives issued fresh demands for “improved accommodation requirements.”

BC can’t resist either: the contracts are ironclad. At this point there is no way to walk away.

Still, Popham insisted that “we have made it very clear to FIFA that this is not a blank check.”

That’s a relief. A cost overrun of up to 142 percent over the initial cost estimate in just two years. I would hate to think what the province and city would be faced with if they had given FIFA a blank check.

The city’s share of the bill could reach $276 million, a 20 percent increase from the previous year, according to the update.

The biggest cost to the province is almost $200 million in improvements imposed by FIFA on BC Place, almost double what it cost to build the stadium 40 years ago.

The money will go toward the purchase of larger elevators, gender-neutral bathrooms, improved Wi-Fi, a central video screen, executive suites and “a natural grass pitch” as required by FIFA.

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Stadium director Chris May explained what the latter entails.

“They (FIFA) have studies going on at two American universities where they are growing grass seeds in different environments,” he told CBC’s Early Edition’s Gloria Macarenko earlier this year.

“They will come to us and tell us this is the type of grass seed. This is when you install. That’s how you grow. “This is when you water it to make sure that every field around the 16 stadiums (of the tournament) and the huge differences in climate zones and that type of thing give consistency to all the stadiums.”

It sounds like the most expensive landscaping job in provincial history. It’s also not permanent, unless they can figure out how to protect the natural grass of a stadium used for concerts, trade shows, and the like.

The Tourism Minister spent her portion of the press conference downplaying the costs and promoting the benefits of hosting the World Cup.

Popham stated that the seven games “will generate more than $1 billion in additional tourism dollars from 2026 to 2031.” He reminded me of Prime Minister Gordon Campbell’s fanciful claim that the 2010 Winter Olympics would generate $10 billion in profits and create 250,000 jobs over 35 years.

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The province expects direct revenues of between $383 and $486 million from hosting the World Cup. Popham said that meant the net cost would be only between $100 million and $145 million.

Its “revenue” estimate includes a promised contribution of $116 million from the federal government. But that is a cost, borne by the country’s taxpayers, including those in British Columbia, and not a source of revenue as the New Democrats imagine.

The total gross cost is approaching $100 million per match, with FIFA taking sole control of BC Place during the World Cup still two years away.

Popham rules out the likelihood of major increases between now and then.

“I think taxpayers expect us to work within that budget.”

Surely. But unless taxpayers were born yesterday, they won’t be surprised if the budget fails again before FIFA moves on to its next victim.

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