Concerns over cost of Olympics rise as excitement over Pan Am Games wanes

The head of Toronto's budget committee is cautious about a bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics

TORONTO – If Toronto Mayor John Tory plans to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, he’ll have to quell concerns in his own council about the financial risks involved.

The head of the city’s budget committee said Tuesday that now that the excitement over the Pan Am Games has faded, he is feeling more uncertain about supporting a possible Olympic bid.

“I’m taking a cautious step back now and looking at the numbers very carefully,” Gary Crawford said.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions at the moment that need to be answered: who’s going to be paying for the bid — $50 million to $60 million — where’s the support from the provincial (and) federal governments, that’s an absolute key necessity, and where the private sector is,” he said.

Though he hasn’t consulted all 43 of his council colleagues, Crawford said he’s heard others voice doubts.

“Everyone is being very cautious about moving forward and they’re not sure,” he said.

Cities looking to host the 2024 Games have another two weeks to officially register their interest with the International Olympic Committee, which secures them the right to submit a bid.

Tory doesn’t need council’s approval to send an application letter, but he does need it to move forward with a pitch.

The mayor said Tuesday he’s spoken briefly to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the possibility of a bid, but wants to confer with the remaining federal leaders and city council on the matter.

Tory also maintains he wants to carefully weigh the pros and cons before deciding whether to even submit a letter to the IOC.

“Concerns about finances are on my mind too,” he said. “That’s why I’m not just blindly saying let’s just sign a letter and go ahead with this.”

A municipal study previously estimated bidding alone would cost between $50 million and $60 million, and hosting the Games would cost between $3.3 billion and $7 billion.

The Canadian Olympic Committee, which has been pushing for Toronto to enter the race, says new rules from the IOC would make both bidding and hosting more affordable, but at least one expert says the price will likely be higher than the city previously predicted.

The COC has also offered to pay the $150,000 application fee that must be sent in with the letter by the Sept. 15 deadline, Crawford said.

The councillor said he’s in favour of sending the application letter, but won’t support using taxpayer money to finance the bid, and should Toronto officially throw its hat in the ring, he won’t agree to a contract that would leave the city on the hook for any cost overruns.

Boston’s mayor rejected a similar agreement in July, effectively killing the city’s bid. Los Angeles has indicated it would step in as a replacement, and city council there was poised to vote on the issue Tuesday.

Rome, Paris, Hamburg, Germany, and Budapest, Hungary, have also expressed interest in competing to host the 2024 Games.

Toronto Coun. James Pasternak, who also sits on the budget committee, said the city would be better off waiting to bid for the next Summer Games instead of rushing into a risky last-minute attempt.

“There’s instability at the federal level, what with the election there, there’s a provincial government which is very constrained financially, we need to hear from the private sector, who will be a major partner,” he said. “Pulling all that together usually takes months.”

“I think the ship has sailed for 2024,” he said. “Our hope at this point would be that a non-North American city wins 2024, that Los Angeles loses, and that 2028 is really our chance.”

Toronto has unsuccessfully bid for the Games twice, most recently for the 2008 Summer Games that went to Beijing. Bids were also discussed, but not submitted, on at least three more occasions.

— with files from The Associated Press

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