Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Red mittens help put 2010 Games in black

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VANCOUVER -- Red mittens and the taxpayers who wore them helped the Vancouver 2010 Olympics break even.

The Vancouver Olympic organizing committee released its final financial report Friday, saying that in the end the Games cost $1.88 billion to stage and reaped that much in revenue.

"We made a promise and we repeated it many times that we would not leave behind a bad result and an unpleasant financial surprise at the end of the Games," said John Furlong, the chief executive officer of the organizing committee, told a news conference on Friday.

"It wasn't easy."

While 91 per cent of the budget came from the corporate sector, taxpayers footed $187 million of the operational bill, and the cost of the venues at $603 million.

The committee's final figures were up $250 million from their original 2007 business plan.

Organizers did raise more money than planned -- $54.6 million worth of merchandise, including 3.5 million pairs of Olympic red mittens and $269.5 million worth of tickets. They also used $730 million of domestic sponsorship money.

But costs also escalated, with the final line item for services and operations ringing it at over $100 million more than budgeted in 2009.

Organizers repeatedly blamed the recession for the increase in their costs, but transportation and accommodation costs were a challenge long before the global economic collapse.

According to briefing documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, organizers first told the federal government about a potential funding shortfall in the spring of 2008.

The committee acknowledged Friday that the success of the Games came from the fact that the federal and provincial governments opened their wallets a little more than they'd originally planned.

The federal government gave an additional $30.7 million for translation, the Paralympics and Own the Podium, while the provincial government contributed an additional $49.5 million to the organizing committee directly and then spent more for the torch relay, opening ceremonies and the look of the Games.

But Furlong said all the investments were targeted to make sure that Canadians got as much out of the Games as they could.

"There was an opportunity to take something that we were doing to a completely different level," he said.

The International Olympic Committee also stepped in with an extraordinary commitment, as Vancouver organizers had developed their initial budget on the belief there would be more international sponsors than eventually materialized.

Neither Vancouver organizers nor the IOC would disclose how much the contribution was in the end.

A comparison of budgeted figures from 2009 and the final numbers suggests the contribution was $9 million, far less than the maximum $22 million the IOC had suggested it would pay.

The Olympics were a success but far greater steps could have been taken to ensure transparency in their budgets, said Kathy Corrigan, the provincial New Democrats' Olympic critic.

"It was a great event, but the question is whether or not the taxpayers of British Columbia were well served and whether it was a good investment," she said.

"The only people who can decide on that are the taxpayers themselves."

The financial report was released hours after a government report that showed the 2010 Winter Olympics have so far generated between $2 and $2.5 billion for B.C. coffers.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers study said the first three months of 2010 alone put over $862 million into the provincial economy.

-- Wire credit

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2010 D2

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