No ‘blank cheque’ for World Cup bid

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Premier balks at cost of hosting 2026 FIFA World Cup games in Vancouver

Rob Shaw
The Province

B.C. Premier John Horgan says he’s not willing to write a “blank cheque” to have Vancouver host soccer matches for the FIFA World Cup in 2026, which may threaten the city’s involvement in a bid package that’s due this week.

“We have been grappling with the proponents who want us to sign a blank cheque, a conditional agreement that can be changed by FIFA but not by us,” Horgan said Tuesday. “I’d love to see soccer games in B.C. Place. I’ve said quite clearly to the proponents, ‘Bring it on. Let’s bring soccer to Vancouver in 2026.’ But let’s also ensure the costs to taxpayers are not out of control.”

A unified bid featuring Canada, the United States and Mexico is seeking to host the 2026 tournament. Vancouver, as one of the potential host cities, could see a maximum of five games. The economic benefit of those games could range from $90 million to $480 million, according to a recent report to the City of Vancouver council, which voted to endorse and support the bid proposal.

The province would be expected to play a role in helping with the provincially owned B.C. Place Stadium, including any modifications required to the playing surface, parking, security and the cost of using the facility. This would be similar to the other Canadian cities involved in the bid, since all the stadiums are publicly owned.

The bid deadline is Friday. Horgan said the province submitted an offer last week, but it wasn’t accepted by the bid committee. Meanwhile, the federal government threw its support, and $5 million in funding, behind the proposal on Tuesday.

“The federal government announced today they support the bid in principle, but they didn’t say anything about the cost of security, they didn’t say anything about the indemnities that the province has to put in place, unlike other cities in Canada because we own the stadium,” said Horgan.

“I have a higher obligation than

just being a soccer fan. I have a higher obligation than just wanting to see world-class soccer in Vancouver. I have to make sure taxpayers aren’t on the hook for unknown costs at the whim of FIFA.

“I’m just not prepared to sign off on that, nor is the minister of finance. We’re going to continue to work with the proponent throughout the week, but I think they have to be responsible as well and understand that as much as we’d love to see soccer coming to Vancouver, world-class, not at any cost.”

The provincial Liberals accused the government of bailing on the bid after years of work.

“In 2015, the economic benefit, to B.C. alone, of hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup was estimated to be about $118 million, all from an initial investment of $2 million,” said Liberal critic Jas Johal during the legislature’s question period Tuesday. “However, the reports are that the provincial government has

pulled out of the bid for the men’s 2026 FIFA World Cup. In fact, we have learned that the bid deadline was last night. Again, I ask the minister: Can she confirm if the province supports the bid, yes or no?”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the tourism ministry said: “The government supports in principle the Men’s World Cup FIFA event in Vancouver.”

The city, provincial government, federal government and airport authority are part of a multi-party working group, with similar groups set up in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto.

If the bid is successful, Vancouver would be notified of its host city status in 2021. Then, the federal and provincial governments would be expected to help collaborate on costs.

It is unclear if B.C.’s hesitation, or outright abandonment, of the deal will throw the Canadian bid into jeopardy.

Victor Montagliani, the Vancouver-based president of CONCACAF, the regional governing body for soccer, and who is helping to prepare Canada’s bid for the World Cup, declined to comment: “It’s inappropriate for me to comment as I’m a vice-president of FIFA.”

A spokesperson with the federal Ministry of Sport and Persons with Disabilities redirected questions about the impact on the bid back to the B.C. government.

In a statement, City of Vancouver spokesperson Ellie Lambert called the bid “a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to be part of the largest sporting event in the world, and research has shown that if Vancouver was an official host city, we could experience up to $490 million in cost benefits.”

“We continue to work with our bid partners, including the province, and look forward to the United Bid Committee’s announcement later this week regarding the host cities that they will be including in the bid.”

Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, who played on Canada’s only World Cup team in 1986, said Vancouver hosting games was a no-brainer.

“We hosted the Olympics in 2010, which was a huge success. We hosted the 2015 Women’s World Cup,” he said. “There’s no question we have the ability to be a part of the Canadian cities. We just want to get right behind the bid and do anything we can do to insure British Columbia is one of the host cities.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it’s probably beyond that. Who knows if there’s ever another opportunity to host a men’s World Cup.”

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