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World Cup games must not come at ‘expense’ of Toronto residents, community groups say | CBC News



World Cup games must not come at ‘expense’ of Toronto residents, community groups say | CBC News

Community groups are demanding the City of Toronto ensures that hosting the next FIFA World Cup benefits residents after years of reports that point to locals and workers in host countries suffering as a result.

Deena Ladd from Workers’ Action Centre said community groups don’t want the profits that corporations and governments will see to come “at the expense” of locals, the environment, people who are homeless and workers.

“Everybody should be benefiting from the games,” said Ladd at a news conference Wednesday morning.

“I think that we just have to look at the history of the Olympics and of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and in other previous jurisdictions around the world, to be very worried.”

While one of the most watched sports events in the world, FIFA World Cup games have a track record shrouded in controversy that human rights organizations have pointed to for years.

In 2022, Qatar was plagued by a bribery scandal, its stance on homosexuality and the horrific treatment of the migrant workers building the glitzy venues. In the 2018 games in Russia, the country faced similar suspected corruption allegations and was criticized on laws affecting LGBTQ people.

That’s why advocates say they’re worried about what’s in store for Toronto locals. Recent reporting from the Toronto Star show FIFA requested guarantees or exemptions as part of the city’s World Cup bid in categories such as visas and immigration, work permits and labour laws, tax exemptions and foreign exchange and safety and security.

With two years before Toronto is slated to host a total of six matches, Shelagh Pizey-Allen of TTCriders says community groups are giving the city more than enough time to ensure everything happens above board and include them in the process — something 10 organizations outlined in a letter to council ahead of its meeting Wednesday. 

“We don’t yet know what’s been granted to FIFA,” she said.

“We’re talking about good green jobs, having strong community benefits, respecting labour laws and making sure that there are green transit improvements that create lasting benefits for Toronto residents out of these games.”

City working to create community benefits plan

Based on the most recent estimates, the city is expected to spend $380 million to host the six matches, but those costs are expected to rise. The province has committed up to $97 million to pay for the games. The federal government has not made a firm commitment yet but city staff say they expect Ottawa to pay for at least 35 per cent of the total cost.

However, Toronto expects to see an economic boost of roughly $392 million in GDP and an additional $456 million for Ontario, according to a recent city report. It also expects the games to create around 3,500 local jobs.

WATCH | Costs for Toronto to host FIFA World Cup jumps hundreds of millions:

Costs for Toronto to host 2026 FIFA World Cup climb to nearly $380M

When Toronto first proposed hosting some of the 2026 FIFA World Cup matches five years ago, a city report estimated the cost at between $30 and $45 million. A new city staff estimate puts the cost at roughly $380 million.

In an email to CBC Toronto, the city confirmed it is working with stakeholders to develop a community benefits plan. 

“The plan will include workforce development plans, social procurement, supply chain policy and more,” the statement reads.

It anticipates “several significant legacies” as a result of hosting the World Cup, including “upgraded recreational facilities, improved stadium accessibility and facilities, strengthened administration for amateur sport and reduced barriers to youth sport participation.”

On Wednesday, council also voted to ask staff to report back on opportunities to include equity groups and to have work done under collective agreements where possible, and explore zero-waste programs, among other initiatives proposed by the community groups in their letter.

A status report on the plan will arrive in the summer, with the full plan expected at the end of this year, the city said. 

Councillors questioned city manager Paul Johnson at length on the costs of security and transportation related to the event, as well as on labour agreements that would be involved. Johnson was also questioned on how vulnerable city residents might be affected. 

“The position of the City of Toronto is to not have any untoward activity happen to unhoused persons or other persons who are vulnerable,” Johnson said.

Mayor boosts committee dedicated to FIFA planning

In an effort to deliver on the games, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow announced Wednesday she’s boosting the city’s FIFA-dedicated team.

“While I didn’t sign this deal, it’s my responsibility as a mayor to do what I can to make these games a success — not only in the lasting connections it builds across communities, but also ensuring its financial sustainability,” she said at a separate news conference Wednesday.

“It is in that spirit that I am strengthening and clarifying the structure and mandate of some of the decision making and advisory bodies that will play a key role in delivering FWC26.”

Chow will be expanding the executive steering committee that provides leadership and oversight to the FWC26 Toronto Secretariat, and will serve as chair. 

Olivia Chow addresses city council during a budget debate — her first as mayor — at city hall, in Toronto, on Feb. 14, 2024.
Mayor Olivia Chow, pictured during a budget debate on Feb. 14, said she is strengthening the mandate and structure of the advisory bodies in charge of delivering the 2026 FIFA World Cup games in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The advisory body was started in 2020 and will now include several members of city council along with provincial, federal and Indigenous representatives and partners.

Chow says there will also be three subcommittees, including a Champions Table to raise money through donations to offset event costs, an FWC26 Forever group tasked with event promotion, community outreach and economic development, and a FWC26 Subcommittee to review spending plans and expenditures. 

She’s also bringing in former city councillor and budget chief David Soknacki to be her “FIFA envoy,” tasked with helping the team deliver its commitment to making the games and their legacy “open, transparent and accountable to the people of Toronto.”

The mayor says finances related to the World Cup will be reported separately from other city budgets in an effort to ensure transparency. 

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