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Free office space and tax breaks: These are some of the concessions Toronto has made to FIFA as part of World Cup

Documents obtained by CTV News Toronto are shedding light on the extent of the city’s obligations to FIFA in hosting games for the 2026 World Cup, including tax breaks and a requirement that public transportation fares be free for ticket holders.

The 242 pages of documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information request and contain the host agreement signed by the city in 2018, as well as a 2022 addendum, though many of the pages are redacted.

They lay out the terms under which the city is responsible for bearing many of the costs of the games, including providing FIFA with office space and equipment “of the highest quality”; city beautification; free public transport for pass holders, ticket holders and media during the games; setting up ticket facilities and covering any municipal taxes FIFA might incur.

Under the agreement the city is also required to temporarily cover up or decorate construction near important games sites or hotels, plan and execute a FIFA Fan Fest event, ensure extended hours of public transit around games and ensure that bars, restaurants and shops are granted proper permits for late-night opening on match days.

The city must also coordinate with FIFA on all press statements and briefings, help facilitate its “brand protection program” by disseminating information to local businesses and entities affected by the rules, and even ensure that airspace around FIFA sites “be free and clear of all commercial signage and/or advertising” on match days.

A clause in the agreement originally stated that the city could not host any other “substantial cultural events” within a day of matches. However City Manager Paul Johnson told council Wednesday that city officials pushed back against the clause and did not agree to it.

Toronto is set to host six matches during the FIFA World Cup 2026 (FWC26). The deal to host the games, which was signed under the previous administration, has been criticized for its secretiveness and for saddling the city with costs which could balloon.

The estimated cost of hosting the games has now grown to around $380 million. The provincial government has committed $97 million toward the cost, while the federal government is still expected to announce its commitment.

 

Chow says she didn’t sign deal, but will make it work

News of the concessions made to FIFA comes as city council considers a staff report showing the cost of hosting the games has already jumped by $80 million.

A number of councillors at the meeting slammed the deal and decried the fact the city signed it without firm support from other levels of government.

“In all honesty, the agreement that staff executed was awful,” Coun. Josh Matlow said. “The conditions are absurd and Toronto, to be on the hook for over $300 million isn’t right for Toronto taxpayers.”

Mayor Olivia Chow said ahead of the meeting Wednesday that it’s time for “a little spring cleaning” when it comes to Toronto’s strategy around the FIFA World Cup Games the city will host, particularly around financial accountability.

“While I didn’t sign this deal, it is my responsibility as mayor to do what I can to make these games a success,” Chow said.

Chow said she is juggling the committee structure and mandate in order to ensure the games’ “financial sustainability” for the city and that the event “builds connections.”

Chow has said she’s hopeful the city can make up some of the costs through sponsorships and donations. The city is also hoping to attract 300,000 visitors around the games to boost the local GDP by $393 million.

In a letter to council Wednesday, the mayor said it’s now the current council’s job to make sure the games are successful.

“As we prepare to host this marquee event, we must also strengthen our resolve to make it a success – not only financially, but in the strong and lasting connections it builds across communities, and how we reflect our shared values as we host the world,” Chow said in the letter.

 

‘Open, transparent and accountable’

Just as soccer is a team sport, the mayor told reporters, the city will take a “team” approach to the games.

To that end she said she is expanding the Executive Steering Committee (ESC) for the games established in 2020 and will chair it herself. Deputy Mayor Mike Colle will be her alternate. The committee will include deputy mayors Jennifer McKelvie and Ausma Malik and councillors Shelley Carroll and Michael Thompson, as well as provincial, federal and Indigenous representatives and key partners.

Chow has tapped former city councillor and budget chief David Soknacki to be the “Mayor’s FIFA Envoy,” working with the committee to help keep the games “open, transparent and accountable to the people of Toronto.”

The mayor said a “Champions Table” will be created under the committee to raise money through donations to offset event costs. Meanwhile an “FWC26 Forever” group will be chaired by Chow with a mandate to help build excitement for the games, create connections with communities across the city to ensure a sense of belonging and civic pride, and to maximize the economic benefit the city sees from hosting the games.

On the financial side, Chow is creating an FWC26 Subcommittee under her executive committee. Chaired by Budget Chief Shelley Carroll, the subcommittee will be tasked with reviewing spending plans and expenditures around the games “to ensure they meet the standards of the residents of Toronto” and “stay within the prescribed budget for the event.”

Speaking with reporters alongside Chow, Carroll said residents want to be able to enjoy the few weeks of the games “with reckless abandon” without fretting about how much it will be costing them as taxpayers.

“On the financial side, we really want to bring it out into the light of day now we have these two years to go,” Carroll said. “And it’s really important that we be transparent, that we have success on the balance sheet. With my economic development hat on, what that means is economic impact for every business, particularly tourism in the city, but it also means success for taxpayers.”

The city’s financial planning division has also assigned an analyst to the games to ensure that FWC26 finances “are reported on separately from other city budgets.” Chow said the move will ensure the budget for the games is transparent for council and the public.

Council is debating a motion today that would move forward on developing agreements with other levels of government and airports, as well as boost a retainer agreement for legal services around the games.

–          With files from CTV News Toronto Reporter Natalie Johnson