Subsidies for homes or sports?

Tom Boland (
Sun, 18 Jul 1999 22:04:59 -0700 (PDT)

FWD from - Michael Shapcott
Bread Not Circuses Coalition
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Date: Mon, 05 Jul 1999 21:56:50
From: Michael Shapcott <>
Subject: Subsidies for homes or sports?

A small group of progressive trade advocates and anti-poverty advocates in
Canada is forming to investigate the possibility of launching a challenge,
under the North American Free Trade Agreement, to the huge taxpayer
subsidies that are given to U.S. professional sporting teams.

As a way of highlighting the issues, we are considering a specific
challenge to the most recent Stanley Cup (professional hockey) victory by
Dallas, and argue that the huge taxpayer subsidies to that team and
professional sports in general amount to an unfair practice that
contravenes NAFTA. No decision has been made on whether to pursue such a
challenge, which would be a considerable undertaking.

This note is an invitation for you to consider whether you and/or your
organization would consider supporting such an initiative and whether you
would have any information or resources to share.

In this note, I have outlined the current context in Canada that has given
rise to this idea, and offered some thoughts on possible objectives for a

Bruce Porter, a lawyer with the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation
in Toronto and a member of the NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and
Investment, has expressed an interest in investigating the technical and
legal aspects of such a challenge. Bruce has considerable expertise,
including his highly successful legal advocacy work working at the level of
the United Nations stretching back a number of years in exposing growing
homelessness, poverty and other social issues as a direct contravention of
Canada's obligations under various international treaties.

The Canadian context:

Recently (as many of you know from a note I posted a week or so ago), there
was a "hockey summit" in Canada attended by millionaire hockey team owners,
the representative of the millionaire players and government
representatives. The owners and players say that federal, provincial and
municipal governments in Canada don't give enough direct subsidies or tax
subsidies to professional sports such as hockey. There is a growing call
for tens of millions of dollars in public funds to flow to professional
sporting interests and sports stadiums.

In fact, there are huge subsidies (directly and through the tax system)
that are given to professional sporting interests in Canada, but this
apparently is not enough, especially compared to the U.S.

Many politicians in Canada are resisting the call from the pro hockey
interests, but one of the strongest arguments raised  by the wealthy
sporting types is that professional sports are heavily subsidized by
taxpayers in the United States, mainly by municipal and state governments.

The call for huge subsidies for professional sports and sporting facilities
in Canada comes at a time when every major indicators points to
homelessness and poverty growing to unprecedented levels.

Needless to say, there is no new money being offered for additional housing
for the homeless, no increases to welfare or unemployment insurance, no
major new social initiatives being considered.

In response to the call from professional sporting interests in Canada for
Canadian taxpayers to fork over millions of dollars, just like their
American counterparts, progressive political activists are starting to call
on Canadian politicians to resist the American model. In fact, there is a
call to directly challenge the Americans using international trade laws.

The U.S. context:

In many U.S. cities, huge public subsidies are flowing to professional
sporting interests. Seattle, Cinncinati, Boston - the list is long and
growing. The most recent Sunday New York Times had two major stories on the
"edifice complex".

Meanwhile, public funding for social needs is being starved.

The objectives:

A challenge under NAFTA, if it were to proceed, would have a number of

- in Canada, to resist any move to have huge taxpayer-funded subsidies
delivered to professional sporting interests, either directly through
grants or indirectly through the tax system.

- in Canada, and the United States, to amplify the debate about priorities
for public spending: new stadiums for professional sporting teams versus
spending on the real needs of people (housing, income assistance, health
care, etc.).

- in Canada, and the United States, turn around the "free trade" debate,
which is generally used against progressive political interests, and use
their legislation and regulations to highlight our issues.

Please let me know what you think of this idea.

Also, any specific experiences from U.S. or Canadian cities would be most

Chuck Currie from Seattle has already sent along some interesting material.

I would be interested in hearing from anyone with connections or news about
Dallas - homeless advocates, anti-poverty groups, progressive community
organizations, etc.

- Michael Shapcott
Bread Not Circuses Coalition
Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Michael Shapcott
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Tel. - 416-367-5402
E-mail -
Bread Not Circuses on the web:


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