close
close

Is the World Cup a no-brainer or a financial foolishness for Vancouver?

Is the World Cup a no-brainer or a financial foolishness for Vancouver?

The surprising performance of the Canadian men’s soccer team in the semi-finals of the COPA America tournament this month and the consistent performances of the women’s team suggest that our country has much more to come in the sport.

It makes sense. For a quarter of a century, more boys and girls have played soccer than hockey in this country. And the gap is widening. The sport is safer than absorbing body checks every shift—headers notwithstanding—and judging by the world’s most successful teams, you’re allowed to roll on the floor and writhe in apparent pain if someone breathes on you.

But the idiosyncrasies of politics tend to intersect with popular activities in unhealthy ways. Instead of building from the ground up, politicians prefer to buy into the most expensive, shiniest item to celebrate.

We will see evidence of this in two years, when the World Cup comes to town for seven games. Vancouver will be one of 16 venues for a tournament spread across the US, Mexico and the Canadian markets of Toronto and Vancouver. Instead of investing valuable money in the infrastructure of a sport, we are paying high prices for the spectacle of performance.

You would never risk your household budget for the extraordinary costs and risky returns Vancouver will make playing football for football with FIFA, the sport’s leaders to whom we will bow for months in the summer of 2026.

At the municipal and provincial levels, we seem to have been hypnotized, indoctrinated, and manipulated into believing that inviting hundreds of thousands of hard-partyers to town is a good thing—that we can actually make money from what should be at least $600 million in spending, that we can attract $1 billion in tourism in the future. At least, the province’s latest estimates—costs up to $581 million, losses as low as $100 million—admit that this is not a moneymaker on the face of it.

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim predicts the publicity and impact will be like “30 to 40 Super Bowls” at once and a “no-brainer.” I respect Sim as a good friend, but I question his comparison of us as one of 16 markets for the tournament with one of the locations as the hub of the NFL championship game. We’ll be on TV worldwide for two hours, seven out of 104 times, crammed wall-to-wall in front of the viewing audience. As for the no-brainer reference — well, if you use the less common, less positive, second interpretation of the term, Sim is right.

We’re going to renovate a stadium that should really be demolished, and provide it with better suits for the football sponsors and the aristocracy, and real grass that the BC Lions will probably grind into mulch.

According to the province, we will attract 350,000 fans to Vancouver, which suggests that few locals will be watching the games live. And not to generalize, because I am an avid follower of our Whitecaps, but soccer fans are not known for winning games for tourist fun.

We will see the city armed with all sorts of security forces (sanctioned and unsanctioned), torn apart by Town Cars, strangled by blocked-off streets, choked with booked restaurants for weeks before, after, and after. We will spend our money entertaining people we will probably never see again.

According to the latest FIFA rankings, Canada is ranked 48th.e in the world, so there will almost certainly be no 2010 Olympic Golden Goal in 2026. It is more than likely that we will feel great to see our country back in the World Cup as a step towards international respectability. For now, we must love the game without investing in the outcome (as did Drake, who bet $300,000 on Canada against Argentina in the COPA semifinals). We are a bit like the Austrian hockey team, who are apparently happy to be among the big boys.

The budgets will undoubtedly grow between now and the audit, but we have some idea of ​​the numbers: last budget year we had a record high provincial deficit of $7.9 billion. This year we have a deficit of $7.7 billion and in the year we host the games, a deficit of $6.3 billion.

The government has no plan to create wealth, so in terms of household economics the World Cup is like having a party when you can’t put food on the table. It’s also a huge drain on our talent that could be better used for a more sustainable activity. The World Cup comes and goes, forever, but the bills are ours to keep.

Kirk LaPointe is a columnist for Glacier Media and has an extensive background in journalism.