Over the last few days, we’ve been inundated with claims from the World Police and Fire “Games” that this publicly subsidized celebration of police/carceral violence will have an “estimated economic impact” of more than $80 million. Mayor Scott Gillingham has described this supposed figure as a “great injection for our economy,” while the head of Economic Development Winnipeg has called it a “big boost for the city.” Sounds pretty good, right? It may even seem to justify the more than $9.3 million being spent by governments and $17 million in total operating costs; after all, it sometimes takes money to make money!

The problem is that there’s no hard evidence for this massive figure. Back in November 2021, when the “games” were first being planned, a study of its “projected economic impact” conducted by Tourism Winnipeg and reviewed by the City’s Economic Research Group estimated that “total direct spending on local goods and services” would be $19.6 million. That’s one-quarter of the current claim: about $60 million less. But more recently, in April 2023, Tourism Winnipeg downgraded this estimate to $10.9 million in “direct spend,” meaning the $80 million figure being bandied about looks to be a more than 600% exaggeration of what the city’s own numbers suggest. For a city council and administration that allegedly prides itself on “fiscal responsibility,” this is an incredible discrepancy that no media outlet seems to have bothered to scrutinize prior to regurgitating it.

Screenshot of graphic from Tourism Winnipeg showing an estimate of "direct spend" during the World Police and Fire Games of $10.9 million

This $10.9 million figure seems to be a fairly safe bet, even with some back of the napkin math. Given that event organizers indicated that the 8,500 participants number now includes family and friends — rather than 8,500 athletes, as previously bragged — this would mean that each attendee would be expected to spend about $1,300 during their visit, assuming they stay for the full 10 days, working out to about $130 a day. Given the availability of participant discounts and bundled accommodation costs via people staying in the same suite, this number appears reasonable. Compare this to the $80 million figure that “games” organizers and city council leaders are invoking. Assuming 8,500 participants, this would see almost $10,000 in spending from each attendee over the 10 days, equivalent to $1,000 a day. There is clearly no merit at all to such an average, even assuming some exceptionally high spenders at casinos and bars.

Further, as is the nature of capitalism in general, discussion of “economic impact” intentionally mystifies who in fact benefits from such activities. Let’s generously assume that $20 million is indeed spent over the 10 days by 8,500 visitors for the “games.” A vast majority of this will not be distributed to workers or captured by governments for funding of public services. Again, the city’s own figures acknowledge this: the November 2021 report estimated “increased tax and other revenue of approximately $1.0 million for Canada, $1.6 million for Manitoba and $578,000 for Winnipeg.” That totals about $3.2 million in additional tax revenue, roughly one-third of what governments spent to subsidize the “games.” Meanwhile, some workers in service and retail sectors may seem a short-term bump in hours and tips; however, early reports suggest that such benefits are not materializing and workers are instead facing additional stress and harassment on the job.

Screencap of a tweet that reads "I'm employed by a participating restaurant, and not a single table of cops who came in to dine tipped on their bills the day I worked. They made sure they got their discount though"

The true beneficiaries of whatever “economic impact” is generated by the “games” are not workers or governments but capitalists, including owners of hotels, corporate Airbnb operators, restaurants, and stores. This reality is clearly represented in the presence of the president and CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba on the board of the “host society,” as well as the prominent voices in media about the supposed benefit of the “games” such as the president of the Manitoba Hotel Association and the managing partner for Brazen Hall Kitchen and Brewery. Whatever the number actually turns out to be, it will overwhelmingly be bolstering the profits of the exploiting class, not reinvested in desperately needed public services in our city.

It’s clear that the $80 million estimate is a public relations farce to justify more than $9 million in public spending on the heavily criticized “games,” which is money that can and should have been directly invested in landfill searches, public housing, safe consumption sites, food security, income supports, and more. As with everything relating to the police and carceral agents, however, these “games” have nothing to do with actual community safety and well-being but exclusively pertain to the interests of cops and capitalists. It’s imperative that we continue to visibly resist this abhorrent spectacle of police/carceral violence and recommit to the fight for defunding and abolishing police in the years to come.