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Shrewd investment or frivolous spending? Economic benefits of Vancouver World Cup games in question

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When all three levels of government defended the ballooning price tag to host several 2026 FIFA World Cup games in Vancouver, they repeated a claim of significant economic benefits that experts and critics are questioning.

The new estimated cost of the seven games has more than doubled, up to $581 million, but the province says it has expert analysis projecting one million visitors and $1 billion in economic spinoff during the event and in the five years after.

Officials estimate 350,000 soccer fans will come to Vancouver and that based on previous research showing visitors who come once will return, they’ve multiplied those visits in the following years.

“Eating visiting, tourism,” B.C.’s tourism minister, Lana Popham, told reporters.

But a sports economist in Toronto says the research is clear that only a handful of sporting host cities have seen economic benefits or spinoffs.

“This is not going to create the economic benefits that are believed,” said Concordia University professor, Moshe Lander. “It’s going to cost more than what’s expected, the net benefit is going to be – if positive – very small and it’s probably not going to be worth it at the end of the day.”

He points out that the government would likely spend money on infrastructure with or without the World Cup, and there will be locals and prospective tourists avoiding the hassle, heightened security and congestion of the tournament. CTV News asked Destination BC for occupancy statistics, and it said over the past two summers, hotels in Metro Vancouver were already 85 to 88 per cent occupied.

“Whoever comes is going to displace someone else who would’ve come, so the net effect is going to be close to zero,” added Lander.

Vancouver’s mayor, a self-described sports fanatic, continues to repeat his belief that the World Cup games will be the equivalent of multiple Super Bowls and that the event will “pay off huge” when visitors “fall in love with Vancouver,” as will TV viewers.

“We are in a competitive situation with cities around the globe for tourist dollars, and we can fall back to Expo ‘86 and the Olympics that were what, 12 years ago, to market to the world, but we have to be competitive and this is an amazing opportunity,” insisted Ken Sim. “It’s a month-long commercial.”

Without any tickets held back for locals to purchase and fan zones and viewing parties across the region costing big bucks, critics see the World Cup as a classic example of misplaced priorities.

“When a majority of British Columbians are less than $200 away from not being able to pay their bills at the end of the month, we need support, we need government to be making life more affordable,” said Carson Binda, B.C. spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “What we don’t need is them spending half a billion dollars pampering the international soccer elite.”

He also pointed to numerous studies showing the lack of economic benefit from other major tournaments and sporting events.

“If a World Expo and a Winter Olympics didn’t put Vancouver on the map globally, then hosting just over six per cent of a World Cup isn’t going to do that either,” Binda added.

The province and city presented a budget that would cover the bulk of the costs of the event with cash infusions from provincial and federal coffers, in addition to an estimated $230 million raised from a special hotel tax Vancouver began levying last year and will continue to for seven years. Revenues from FIFA and sponsorships are considerably lower.

That has Lander urging British Columbians to be realistic about what the World Cup will mean for them.

“If the reason that the citizens are behind this is because they believe there are economic benefits that are going to well exceed the economic costs, they’ve been misled,” he said. “They’re really going to be upset when they find out after the fact that it didn’t happen.”

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