Could Toronto organize a bid for the 2024 Olympics?
Toronto has bid on the Olympics five times since 1960, and failed each time. But Marcel Aubut, the head of the Canadian Olympics Committee, recently told the Star that the moment has come to try again. The relatively smooth lead-up and presumed success of the Pan Am Games should prove our ability to host mega-events, and the International Olympic Committee made reforms this past winter, many of which are designed to make bidding and hosting easier and less expensive. Could Toronto seize this moment to take its international sporting status to the next level?
WOULD IT WORK?
Even though the idea of a bid was ostensibly scratched last year, when city council’s economic development committee voted against spending $1 million on a pre-bid assessment, Aubut’s suggestion isn’t completely left-field. Rio de Janeiro hosted the Pan-Am Games in 2007 and then leveraged that position two years later to win the 2016 Summer Olympics, setting a precedent that Toronto could emulate.
But a feasibility study done by the audit firm Ernst and Young in 2013 concluded that hosting the Pan Am Games wouldn’t necessarily improve Toronto’s chances of making a successful Olympic bid. The soonest Toronto could possibly land a Summer Games would be 2024, by which point the the Pan Am athletes’ village will have long since been converted to condos. The Pan Am sports facilities will still be around, but they weren’t built to Olympic standards.
Meeting those Olympic standards requires incredible amounts of money. Beijing and Sochi cost $44-billion and $51-billion respectively—though the Ernst and Young report pegs the cost of a Toronto Olympics at a mere $7 billion. The expense of hosting the games is part of the reason only two cities are competing for the 2022 Winter Olympics: Beijing, again, and Almaty, Kazakhstan. The IOC is trying to reduce the burden of hosting by allowing cities to adapt and reuse existing facilities, though, so it’s possible that some Pan Am investments that aren’t currently considered Olympic-grade could one day make the cut under a revised set of standards. In that case, Toronto would be better positioned than previously thought.
Even so, the structure of municipal politics in Canada makes it intrinsically difficult to bid on the Olympics, says Robert Oliver, a professor of geography at Virginia Tech who has published several papers on Toronto’s failed Olympic bids. The reason is simple: Toronto can’t afford the Olympics, so it has to rely on higher levels of government to pay the bills and guarantee its debts. But securing provincial and federal money means relinquishing a lot of control over the bid, and that in turn makes it harder to negotiate between local and international interests. What do we build and where do we put it? Between the city, the province, the country and the adjudicating members of the IOC, there are a lot of competing answers to those questions.
A bid committee would need to do two things at once: sell the Olympics to Toronto and sell Toronto to the IOC. For Torontonians who remember the divisiveness of the 1996 or 2008 bids, the thought of launching another attempt likely doesn’t hold much appeal. But the city might be convinced by a massive influx of federal and provincial money. After all, the Olympics got Vancouver a highway, a convention centre and a rapid transit line. Maybe we could finally fix our waterfront—that was the thinking on the last five bids, at any rate.
But even though the IOC wants to create lasting legacies, it doesn’t see itself as a development agency, Oliver says. The committee would want Toronto to demonstrate that it has a commitment to local amateur sport, which, unfortunately, this city really doesn’t. “We have to do a much better job of providing for our own people before the international community will give us another Olympics,” says Bruce Kidd, principal of University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus and a longtime sport advocate who served on the last two bid committees.
According to Kidd, Toronto’s opportunistic approach to the Olympics doesn’t impress the IOC. While there are plenty of factors that make this city appealing, exploiting the games for new infrastructure while ignoring the lack of existing support for sport isn’t likely to win the bid. The Pan Am Games seem to be moving us in a better direction, but it remains to be seen how far. By the time we know, it’ll be too late for the 2024 Olympics.