Canada hoping for profitable Games

Despite the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Canada is expecting a windfall return on its billions of dollars spent to host the 2010 Winter Games next month.

But critics say organisers are hiding much of the indirect costs of hosting the event, and are waiting to see if key post-Games tourism actually pans out.

The Vancouver Organising Committee (Vanoc) has arguably learned from past money-losing Games and kept a tight lid on the costs of constructing venues.

"However, even if there are no operational cost overruns, there were a lot of policy decisions that were made to leverage the Games and those all come at a cost," said University of British Columbia researcher Rob VanWynsberghe. VanWynsberghe is to report to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on the social, environmental and economic impacts of the Games after looking at 126 indicators.

He pointed to a new government programme that encourages youth to exercise, as an example of a Games-related investment that "will have been wasted" if later discontinued. It cost $29 million (Dh106m) to launch.

In terms of direct economic impacts, VanWynsberghe said: "What we found was slightly positive in the lead-up to the Games, with new jobs created in Whistler [the mountain skiing venue[ and more people showing up in Vancouver to attend conferences."

Pre-Games tourism, however, has been way below expectations. Three economic impact reports prepared for the host British Columbia government and the IOC said the Games would provide a $9.5bn boost to the local economy.

The provincial government downgraded this figure to $3.8bn last year after the global economy tanked.

It also estimated the direct cost of hosting the Games at $730 million.

However, the figure does not include $955m for security, or the cost of building a new subway line to the airport, expanding a highway from Vancouver to the Whistler ski resort where ski and slide competitions are to be held, a new convention centre that will house visiting media during the Games, and other investments.

"The costs are certainly way higher than we've been told," lamented opposition member of the British Columbia legislature Kathy Corrigan.

Games organisers had some initial trouble securing sponsors and selling tickets for events.

"If someone had asked me a year ago if the global recession would have a big impact on the Games, I would have said yes," said Edward Mansfield of PricewaterhouseCoopers, who authored one of the Games reports.

"Now I'm not so sure. I think the effects of the [dour] economy will be much less ... as it seems to be turning around now," he said.

 

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