Vancouver's 2010 security costs rise sharply

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Security costs for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will be about C$900 million ($720 million), five times what Canada estimated when it bid for the Games, officials said on Thursday.

The Canadian government quietly released the long-awaited figure on the same day as U.S. President Barack Obama was visiting Ottawa, an event that dominated news coverage.

Canadian officials had estimated security costs at C$175 million when Vancouver was awarded the Games in 2003 but that has long been discounted by media observers and Games critics as too low.

A revised figure had been expected for several months. The announcement did not give a reason for the large disparity.

“The government of Canada and its partners have a comprehensive approach to security planning, and we are on track to host a secure Games,” the federal public safety minister, Peter Van Loan, said in a short statement.

Under an agreement with the International Olympic Committee, security costs for the Games are the responsibility of the federal and British Columbia provincial governments and are not included in the Vancouver Organizing Committee’s C$1.75 billion operating budget.

The province and Ottawa have been haggling for months over what is an Olympic-related cost and which routine costs the police and the military would incur even without the Games.

Under a deal announced on Thursday, the federal government will assume full responsibility for the costs. In return, the province will spend C$165 million on unrelated infrastructure costs that would have been paid by Ottawa.

The federal government will also get to keep the C$87 million that the province has already contributed to security funding.

British Columbia’s finance minister, Colin Hansen, said the governments had known the revised estimate for the security budget since late last year, but Ottawa had refused to let the figure and new agreement be made public until Thursday.

The security funding is on top of the C$580 million cost for venue construction that is being split by the province and the federal government.

Although the Vancouver Organizing Committee was not responsible for drafting the security budget, its chief executive defended the revised figure and said he was not worried the higher cost would hurt the event’s image.

“In my view, the Canadian public’s first concern is that the Games be safe,” John Furlong told a hastily called news conference after the figures were released.

Editing by John O’Callaghan