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Canada prepares the “building blocks” for World Cup 2026

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A couple of days ago, Canadian Soccer Association General Secretary Peter Montopoli was at Edmonton’s City Hall and was asked about a possible bid for the 2026 World Cup.

Montopoli described the hosting of the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup and the 2015 Women’s World Cup as “building blocks” towards a bid for 2026; and, he noted that, in July of 2015, Canada can boast that it’s hosted all the major tournaments except for the biggest one of them all.

Montopoli was in Edmonton for the announcement of the city as the host of the opening ceremonies and first game of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, so he was right to feel bullish.

There’s no doubt that there is a section of FIFA voters who are enamoured with Canada; despite the fact we don’t have the on-field profile of CONCACAF neighbours Mexico and the United States, we offer stability and certainty, without the American bluster that seems to turn so many international voters off (see: IOC vote and Chicago, 2014 Olympics, U.S. World Cup bid, 2022).

But, if even a 2026 bid launch is going to become a reality, we’ll need to have a good look at ourselves. On Thursday, when the Women’s World Cup schedule was unveiled, all the plums went to Edmonton and Vancouver; BC Place got the final, while Commonwealth Stadium got the most games — and the opening ceremonies.

Facility managers in both cities boasted how their stadiums were the best for soccer in the country.

And, when it comes to large-scale events, they are right. (Scary, isn’t it?) A concrete giant built in the 1970s and a revamped dome stadium — both with artificial turf — are the best we can do. Sure, we have a “national” stadium in Toronto and a wonderful Stade Saputo in Montreal, but their hockey-rink capacities rule them out for any big events.

And, the truth of the matter is that, even if Toronto would have taken part in the bid for the Women’s World Cup, the announcements on Thursday would still have been about Edmonton and Vancouver. BMO Field is simply too small to host a WWC semifinal or final; and it’s not like the Blue Jays would be able to vacate Rogers Centre for a month. The scary thing is that Canada’s largest metro doesn’t have the kind of facility that befits a World Cup.

Montreal has the Big Owe. (Combine that with Edmonton’s Commonwealth for a study of industrial concrete architecture in Canada during the ‘70s.) But, with the problems it’s had in the past with crumbling concrete and a dodgy roof, it’s not a reliable venue.

So, while we offer building blocks to FIFA, we also will need to offer promises. That stadums will come soon. That we will find money to put these facilities together. But, like any other bid we have seen over the last three decades, that doesn’t mean we build now. Shovels only go in the ground if a tournament is awarded, then it’s a mad scramble to get them done.

And, in a country that is growing more fiscally conservative — and likely will be more financially conservative in the time leading up to 2026 out of sheer necessity — will it be possible to find that kind of money in the pockets of mayors, premiers and the federal government?

And, of course, what happens if we win a World Cup, build a couple of 100,000 seat leviathans, and then watch them go unused after the tournament? Think about all the other stadiums in Canada that were specifically built for major events, from Olympic Stadium to Commonwealth Stadium — outside of a few CFL games and the odd soccer event, they sit empty.

Going for the biggest sporting event of them all is a risk. But we can’t even get to that level of discussion unless Commonwealth, as women’s national team coach John Herdman predicted, becomes a sea of 60,000 red shirts for Canada’s opening game.

Really, the fate of a 2026 bid lies in the hands of Edmonton and Vancouver. This whole process began in 2002, when Commonwealth got 45,000 in attendance for the final of the Women’s U-19 Championship. That was the impetus for the U-20 World Cup in 2007, which has begat the women’s tournaments in 2014 and 2015.

But, for 2026, we’ll need more infrastructure, more first-class training facilities, more world-class stadiums. Canada has been offered to test drive the Ferrari; we just don’t know if we can afford it.


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