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Has anyone else noticed that whenever the Fédération Internationale de Football Association – a.k.a. FIFA – comes to town, controversy and regret follow?

Yes. Everyone has noticed this. Everyone in the entire world who follows soccer and its apogee, the World Cup, knows the score by heart.

They remember the corruption that brought the World Cup to South Africa in 2010, the abuse of migrant workers who built the stadiums used for the event in Qatar in 2022 that FIFA ignored, and the dozens of convictions on charges of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering brought by the U.S. Justice department against FIFA and its related soccer associations in 2015.

But somehow, every time FIFA pitches its next World Cup, there are cities and countries that forget the unhappy past, and suddenly FIFA transforms into a trusted organization that blesses the lucky with the opportunity to host an Actual World Cup Game!™ (some conditions apply; see media reports and documents obtained through access to information requests for details).

You will, or perhaps you won’t, forgive us our sarcastic trespasses. But Toronto and Vancouver are currently caught in the completely predictable trap of rising costs and cliched second-guessing that comes with every FIFA bid, and it’s too much to bear.

In 2022, FIFA “awarded” the two cities five preliminary matches each as part of the 2026 World Cup in North America. Mexico will get some games, too, but American cities are hosting the vast majority, including the final.

Toronto said in 2022 that hosting its allotment of games would cost $290-million, and that it would pony up $93.8-million. The rest would come from the province, Ottawa and sponsors. It was a lot of money for a city that at the time was so short of cash that the water fountains, splash pads and public toilets in parks were closed in the middle of a heat wave. But whatever.

As sure as spring follows winter, the cost for what is now six Toronto games has jumped to $380-million. The city, which just raised its property taxes by 9.5 per cent to cover a $1.8-billion deficit, may well be stuck with much of the new cost, as the province says it has no more cash to contribute.

Meanwhile in Vancouver, the city and the province are refusing to say what the cost of hosting what is now seven games will be. Last year, the city estimated the cost of five games at $240-million to $260-million.

And for what? A redacted copy of Toronto’s contract with FIFA made public through an access to information request shows just how much the soccer gods wrung out of the city.

Among other concessions, Toronto has to pay for security, give free transit passes to ticket holders, FIFA staff and media, forgive any municipal tax payable by FIFA, host at its expense an outdoor fan festival, purge the airspace around FIFA sites of any advertising and clear any press statements with FIFA’s people. No doubt the same goes for Vancouver.

Toronto and Vancouver hope to get a return on their investment in the form of thousands of visitors and a boost to local GDP. That is the only return on offer to FIFA hosts, and nothing about it is predictable or proven by past experience.

And FIFA? Its deal with the organizers of the 2026 World Cup guarantees it a whopping $14.9-billion profit on overall revenues of $19-billion.

That’s right: FIFA is guaranteed a profit that is not that far from Toronto’s 2024 operating budget of $17.1-billion. Plus free transit passes.

Toronto councillors now find themselves in the position of saying they are in favour of hosting the games but just wish it would cost less, darn it all. Mayor Olivia Chow keeps reminding anyone in earshot that it wasn’t her administration that signed the deal with FIFA, but says she will work to make the most of it for the city.

The increased costs, the revelations that FIFA won embarrassing concessions from yet another overeager host city and the municipal chagrin were all perfectly foreseeable. But the allure of the biggest tournament in the most popular sport in the world rubbing off on your city – a temptation that FIFA knows is hard to resist – once again caused officials in two Canadian cities to suspend disbelief.

Enjoy the games, Toronto and Vancouver. You might as well. You’re stuck with them now, no matter how much they cost or how little they return to you.

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