Canada’s big bid


For Canadians, the 2014 World Cup is a lot like the 2010 World Cup. Or 2006. Or 2002. Or 1990, 1994 and 1998. Canada didn’t qualify for the big tournaments, so our rooting interests lie in our heritage nations. Or maybe we watch American TV and follow the exploits of Michael Bradley and co. And, of course, we have to deal with the Canadian media assumption that somehow England is “our” team. But, as the 2014 World Cup plays out in Brazil, Canadian Soccer Association President Victor Montagliani is telling anyone who’ll listen about the bid to host the 2026 World Cup. We look at the coming bid, and what it means for the country and potential host cities…

It’s the early summer of 2026, and millions of visitors from around the world have landed on Canadian soil.

A stadium is filled to capacity. Brazilian fans wearing gold headdresses sit next to European fans who have just purchased commemorative World Cup bunny hugs from a souvenir stand. The Europeans text their friends back home, bragging that they’ve learned about double doubles, steel testicles hung from the backs of pick-up trucks and poutine. A guy from Saskatchewan shows off the watermelon shell he’s plunked onto his head, because that’s just what people from Saskatchewan do. He warns the guy from Australia who’s sitting next to him that he can craft a mean hat out of a beer case.

Before the game kicks off, Rush, the three members now balding, take to a stage set up on the midfield circle and pound through some of their classics, including a couple of hits from their 37th studio album, released via streams and download in the previous week. The crowd roars when Neil Peart, nearing his 74th birthday  crashes and bangs through the drum fills in “Tom Sawyer” as if it was 1984.

The stage is quickly dismantled, and the new high-grade FieldTurf looks no worse for the wear.

Keepers at both sides of the field shower themselves in bug repellent, as mosquitoes hover all around them, waiting on nice, easy, bloody, targets.

To many Canadians, the news that this country is bidding to host the 2026 World Cup is the stuff of novelty. Ask the question “how would you rate Canada’s chances to host the World Cup?” in any Canadian pub — no matter if it’s in Corner Brook, Chilliwack, Charlottetown or Calgary — and you’ll likely get a snicker. Or three. Or a dozen.

But, just a few years ago, there were those who thought a World Cup couldn’t possibly awarded to Qatar. Three decades ago, the thought of a World Cup held on Asian or African soil would have been considered laughable at best.

So, maybe it isn’t so strange after all. And the Canadian Soccer Association’s is confident in its plan to bid for 2026’s big show.

In 2013, the CSA made it official; it announced that a bid would be launched for the 2026 World Cup. FIFA has yet to open the bidding process for 2026, but the CSA’s strategy was one of shock and awe. The goal was to make sure everyone in the world knew that Canada had planted its flag. If the bidding process is indeed a marathon, Canada chose the role of pacesetter.

It’s Not Poker

“We’re not playing poker, here,” says Canadian Soccer Association President Victor Montagliani. “There is no harm in telling the world that we are ready for these kind of challenges. And I have to say that in my travels, both domestically and internationally, I have received nothing but positive feedback.”

Let’s back up a few years: In December of 2010, FIFA delegates made the unprecedented move to award two World Cups at once; the 2018 tourney went to Russia and the 2022 Mundial was awarded to Qatar. Allegations of vote-trading and back-room deal-making dogged FIFA, and it’s now a given that the mistake of awarding two World Cups at the same meeting will ever be repeated again.

The allegations of vote-rigging and bribery overshadowed the fact that FIFA did put some new ground rules in place for the 2018 and 2022 votes. The big one: Once a continent had hosted a World Cup, any nation from that continent was ineligible to bid for the next two World Cups. That system replaced the controversial continental rotation scheme. So, working with the assumption (and the word “assumption” is important, here) that the rules will remain the same for 2026 bidders, Canada would not have to compete with bids from any Asian or European nations. And, as the 2030 World Cup would mark the 100th anniversary of the tournament, South American nations might not get 2026, as they would instead be favourites for the centenary. It’s not at all ridiculous to think that Canada may only face competition from other CONCACAF countries and African nations for 2026 hosting rights.

But, before pro-Canadian supporters can ponder the handicapped field, it’s important to remember this. FIFA is under no obligation to apply a ban on European and Asian bids for 2026. It is expected that the rule will be extended, but FIFA made it clear that the parameters for 2026 bids have yet to be set.

“Please note that the requirements for the bidding and hosting as well as criteria for selecting the host of the event are still being finalized for the next FIFA World Cup bidding process,” FIFA said in a statement issued to this magazine.

So, when is the process to begin? Montagliani already has a schedule in mind.

“If we’re going on the process of the last few years, the country is usually given about eight years to prepare. It was different last time, when two World Cups were awarded at the same time. But FIFA is not going to do that again. “We have started the process of building the bid, we have started having the backroom discussions to plan the bid. We will start the process of the official bid not too far off in the future, likely after the conclusion of the Women’s World Cup (in 2015). It will likely take us a year to prepare it.”

So, with Montagliani’s timetable in mind, Canada’s bid book should get to the FIFA offices in Switzerland in 2016, and the world can expect a decision by 2018 at the latest. And, while there’s no doubt that the World Cup would bring massive numbers of foreign fans to Canada, how much support would it have from Canadian themselves? According to Montagliani, Canadians bought the 11th most tickets for the 2014 World Cup, and that ticket purchases from Canada rank the highest of any non-competing nation.

How Much Will it Cost?

Montagliani says that no World Cup 2026 cost estimates have been made. Right now, this is still a bid without a budget.

“Obviously, most of the costs will be in the infrastructure, building stadiums,” he says. “The transportation infrastructure is there. Our airports are already top-notch. Our communications systems are there.”

Brazil is using 12 stadiums for the 2014 World Cup. Of those dozen facilities, not one holds fewer than 41,000 people. Four of them hold more than 62,000 each. While the Maracana’s capacity has been reduced from over 200,000 to the current configuration of 73,531, it would still be larger than any stadium in Canada.

So, if Montagliani thinks eight to 10 stadiums is the magic number, all of them will likely need to hold 40,000 people or more. And the stadiums that get the marquee matches — such as the opener, Canada’s group-stage games, and the semi-finals and final — would need to creep past capacities of 60,000.


Outside of Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium and Vancouver’s BC Place, Canada has few stadiums that get to the 40,000 mark and would be ready to host World Cup games. And, in the case of both Vancouver and Edmonton, grass would need to be installed or FIFA would need to OK artificial turf for the men’s World Cup like it has for the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

Recently constructed stadiums in Ottawa and Winnipeg don’t hit the 40,000-seat threshold. Even if planned renovations are made, BMO Field in Toronto would be too small, and major work would be needed to make Rogers Centre ready for a World Cup. And would the baseball Blue Jays be able to clear out of their stadium in the height of the summer for a slate of World Cup matches? In Montreal, Stade Saputo isn’t big enough and Olympic Stadium, is well, falling apart.

“In Qatar, they are going with eight stadiums. FIFA has not set the minimum requirements yet for 2026, but I think having eight to 10 stadiums would suffice, I’d think that would be the right number of stadiums,” Montagliani says. “We have already received quite a few letters of support from mayors across Canada.”

But the cities and provinces will be staring at some massive capital expenditures. The City of Rio De Janeiro added 90 commuter trains ahead of the World Cup.

According to a post-2006 World Cup report prepared for the German government, “the transport burden which resulted from spectators and visitors was in fact significantly higher than expected. Most of the stadiums were packed right down to the last seat. One million foreign visitors were expected during the World Cup. However, more than two million people came to Germany.”

A report prepared for the South African government indicated that the country spent 70 billion rands just to improve the country’s roads and highways ahead of the 2010 World Cup. That’s a little over CDN$9 billion, based on 2010 exchange rates.

Germany spent nearly 4 billion Euros on pre- 2006 World Cup infrastructure improvements.

And, visitors had the option of buying rail passes that were valid through the World Cup.

It’s one thing to move two million visitors across Germany, a nation that has great rail connections and is within a single time zone. Germany itself is smaller than a lot of individual Canadian provinces. In Canada, fans would need to fly across a country that’s notorious for having some of the most expensive domestic airfares in the world. Could you imagine our national air carriers getting together with the Canadian Soccer Association and creating a streamlined system for passengers to get across the nation?

A League of Our Own?

Canada currently has a Division 3 strategy, with an eye towards developing regional semi-pro leagues that would focus on U-23 talent. League 1 Ontario and the Première Ligue de soccer du Québec have launched.

But our official Division 1 is Major League Soccer and Division 2 is the North American Soccer League — both shared with the United States. And, United States Soccer Federation rules state that those leagues can’t have less than 75 per cent of their memberships based in the 50 states or the District of Columbia. And, in those leagues, Canadians are only recognized as domestic players when they’re on the rosters of Canadian clubs. Meanwhile, Americans are recognized as domestics on both Canadian and U.S.-based teams. It isn’t the best recipe for Canadian player development.

And, as Plastic Pitch showed in its first-issue look at games played by Canadians in MLS, the number of minutes available to our players — on a per-MLS team basis — was about the same in 2013 as it was when the league launched in 1996. With almost twice the amount of teams in 2013 than existed in 1996, and three of the new franchises being based in Canada, there should be many more job opportunities for Canadians.

But it hasn’t worked out that way.

In 1996, Canadian players averaged about 946.7 minutes per team. In 2013, it was at 1025.2 minutes per team. Put it in perspective: 1025 minutes is a little less than 12 games, total. Montagliani says that having an all-Canadian Division 1 isn’t necessary as part of a World Cup bid — as it was in 1994, when the United States promised FIFA that it would launch a top-tier domestic league, which became Major League Soccer.

“FIFA did away with the regulation requiring a domestic league years ago. Qatar was awarded a World Cup, and I don’t know if they have a domestic league and, if they do,what kind of a league it is.”

But this is where it gets very interesting.

While it’s not part of the bid, the Canadian Soccer Association is looking at the feasibility of launching a new top-tier league. That means taking the pulses of potential investors and seeing if they’d be willing to put their money into Canadian-based pro clubs.

Montagliani calls the plan “Division 1A.”

“One of our next priorities in Canada is to develop a Division Two and a Division 1A. But that process isn’t tied to the World Cup bid. We believe that these leagues can co-exist with MLS and NASL. But, for such a league to exist, it needs to show it can be successful on a commercial basis. The days of cutting a cheque and handing it over are gone.”

So, if such leagues are launched, there wouldn’t be an edict to force FC Edmonton and the Ottawa Fury to leave NASL for a new Canadian league. And the Canadian MLS teams would be allowed to go about their business. Think of it like Wales; it has its own league, but Cardiff City and Swansea play against English opposition.

But, down the road, the impact of a Canadian Division 1A on the Voyageurs Cup and qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League would be fascinating. We’ll just have to see if there are Canadians willing to make the investments.

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