Should Toronto bid on the 2024 Olympics or the 2025 World Expo?

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
The sun is reflected in a statue with the Olympic rings during the executive board's meeting, next to the IOC headquarters, in Lausanne, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone,Jean-Christophe Bott)

With the 2014 Winter Games about to get underway in Sochi, Russia, we can forgive the decision makers at Toronto City Hall for getting swept away with Olympic fever. But they should pump the breaks when it comes to making any plans to host a future iteration of the international spectacle.

We're just not ready to bask under the glow of an Olympic halo.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly told reporters On Monday that the city should wait until after the Pan Am Games are completed in 2015 before we even consider the question. Mayor Rob Ford had previously taken the same stance, saying he was skeptical of the cost to even start the bidding process and suggesting our focus should be on the Pan Am Games.

This despite the assertion that, should Toronto truly want to host one of these international marvels, time is of the essence.

On Monday, Toronto's Economic Development Committee considered a feasibility study into the idea of hosting the 2024 Olympic Games or the 2025 World Expo.

The general benefits of hosting a massive international spectacle are well known. According to a study by Ernst & Young, hosting the Olympic Games would increase the city's visibility and improve its repudiation, create an opportunity to establish business and cultural relationships, as well as drive job creation and urban renewal.

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On the downside, even entering the bidding process is expensive. The city would need to pay $1 million to undertake a pre-bid analysis - just to decide if placing a bid would be worth it. Presenting a bid to the International Olympic Committee rings in at between $50 million and $60 million. And if Toronto won the right to host, we are talking about a net cost of between $3.3 billion and $6.9 billion.

An Ernst & Young report on a World Expo bid yielded similar results – with the benefits seen to be more localized to the Great Lakes area. A World Expo bid would also take $1 million to analyze, with the bid process coming in at an estimated $10 million to $15 million. Actually hosting the event would likely cost between $1 billion and $3 billion.

Ernst & Young has suggests the city has to act soon if it wants to bid for one of these events. The deadline to submit a bid to host the Olympics, for example, is only three months after the Pan Am Games begins on July 10.

So what's the delay? Why aren't we already in line to beg for the next Olympic Games or another grand event? Not so fast.

It is tough not to consider that $1 million tab to conduct a feasibility study a down payment, especially when you consider Canada's recent Olympic success. When Vancouver hosted the Winter Games in 2010, consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers calculated the end result to be 45,000 jobs created and a $2.3 billion boon to the province's economy.

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Of course, if we are considering Olympic legacies – and Vancouver's financial legacy has its own asterisk next to cost overruns – then we must consider the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

The Montreal Games are considered the poster child for financial disaster. The Games left the city $1.5 billion in debt. That largely surrounds the construction of the "Big O" – a stadium that was not completed in time for the Games, has been underused since then and took 30 years to pay off.

Further, we should consider Toronto's experience preparing for those Pan Am Games. There have been expense scandals and six-figure bonuses promised to top executives.

The troubled have already led to the dismissal of CEO Ian Troop and reports that the Pan Am Games budget has ballooned to $2.5 billion. Now imagine all of that, but with a larger budget and on a grander scale.

All this, and at the end of the day, according the Ernst and Young, "It is assumed that the Pan Am/ParaPan Game venues do not meet IOC standards and that new venues would need to be constructed."

Toronto has made two Olympic bids in the past, most recently for the 2008 Olympics ultimately hosted by Beijing. The city nearly bid again for the 2020 Olympics, and the Pan Am Games are considered to be trial run for Olympic hosting duties. Yet somehow we have built sport complexes that would need to be replaced for the Olympics?

We’re not ready to host a major international spectacle, even if we wanted to. Let someone else pick up the challenge. Toronto should get through the Pan Am Games and take a nap. Maybe we'll all wake up with clearer heads.

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