Toronto officials saw public resistance as the main threat to a possible Olympic bid and worried holding a referendum on the issue would “allow critics to overstate and inflate opposition” to hosting the 2024 Games, documents reveal.
Emails and briefing materials written by Toronto Mayor John Tory’s staff – obtained by through access-to-information laws – suggest a lack of public and government support were seen as the “greatest risks” to a Toronto pitch.
“Support could wane following the Pan Am Games or given an unfavourable media climate,” according to a document from late July. “A number of advocacy groups, activists and politicians will organize against the Olympic bid.”
And with the federal election still looming at the time, there was concern that “a federal political party may campaign on the promise of scuttling an Olympic bid,” it said.
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The document notes that the International Olympic Committee expects public support for a bid to be between 80 and 85 per cent, but a Forum poll conducted in January found that only 61 per cent of Toronto residents were in favour.
Talk of Toronto potentially making a bid emerged as excitement built around the summer’s Pan Am Games hosted by Toronto and surrounding communities.
But Tory announced on Sept. 15 – the deadline to register interest with the IOC – that the city would not proceed this time, saying there wasn’t enough time to crunch numbers and assess the impact of the Games.
He also said at the time that federal party leaders and members of the business community were cautious when it came to pledging funds.
A briefing note prepared by the mayor’s office said the most significant “legacy risks” of hosting the Games would be large cost overruns, underuse of existing infrastructure and failure to meet construction timelines.
It suggested, however, that new IOC guidelines encouraging the use of existing facilities could push the costs below a previous estimate of $3.3 to $7 billion, while warning that the higher figure, though “no longer relevant,” would be used by critics of the bid.
The document also proposed to reduce the apparent costs of the Olympics by arranging land remediation to the city’s waterfront – which would be used for the athletes village – outside of the Games preparation process.
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“If the other levels of government were to make funding commitments to the Port Lands revitalization independent of the Olympic bid, the line item for Port Lands could be excised from the cost of the Olympics, further reducing the sticker price,” it said.
The remediation was estimated to cost $975 million.
Other documents also suggest the Canadian Olympic Committee was concerned that Tory appeared hesitant.
Hours before then-COC president Marcel Aubut announced his intention to push for a bid in a televised interview, committee spokesman Carl Vallee emailed Tory’s office asking that talk of a pitch not be described as “speculative” in the mayor’s media statements.
“When I read it, it makes me think the mayor is backing off and downplaying it,” Vallee wrote.
“It’s no longer speculative the moment Marcel says what he said. It’s becoming very real,” he said in a follow-up email.