Home Canadian Soccer The Association Let’s go, Oilers! Edmonton’s reaction to 2026 World Cup bid long-list has been, well, underwhelming

Let’s go, Oilers! Edmonton’s reaction to 2026 World Cup bid long-list has been, well, underwhelming

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The Eskimos are undefeated! Leon Draisaitl just signed an eight-year extension!

(And there was some kind of World Cup news this week, good if we need some filler material).

Such was the reaction of Edmonton’s mainstream media to the news that the City of Champ… (wait, they took down those signs, didn’t they?), er, Alberta’s capital, was one of seven Canadian cities on the long-list to potentially host World Cup matches in 2026.

I can’t speak to how the news is being treated in Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal or Ottawa, but I can say that in Edmonton, Canada’s role in a joint bid for the 2026 World Cup with the United States and Mexico has been widely, well, ignored. I mean, come on, Leon Draisaitl over Lionel Messi, right?

The joint CONCACAF tri-nation bid is up against Morocco for the rights to host 2026. Now, the bid committee has identified seven Canadian cities that could host games. And the reaction in the city that hosted more Women’s World Cup in 2015 than any other Canadian city has been a mixture of “whatever,” “never knew we were bidding for a World Cup” and “huh?” When the long-list announcement was made earlier this week, the Edmonton Journal responded with non-bylined staff recap of the press release.

Winnipeg didn’t make the shortlist of seven, and, as outlined in a Winnipeg Sun feature, Manitoba Soccer Association executive director Hector Vergara said the requirements — five-star hotel, a stadium with a minimum of 40,000 permanent seats and top-level grass practice fields, well that was too much for the ‘Peg

And this will be the debate, once someone actually gets around to firing one up. With Canada hosting just 10 of the 80 games, the most matches a host city is going to get is a couple — unless that long-list is really pared down. This will be a 48-team World Cup, so there’s no guarantee that the one or two matches your city will get will be major clashes. So, you could be going to a lot of expense to watch two teams with not one marquee international name on the field. I mean, if Edmonton could pick, we’d want Canada games; Ukraine, Poland and Chile would all do well here, too. But outside of knowing Canada will play its group-stage games somewhere in this country, there are no guarantees with the draw.

That’s the thing; the Women’s World Cup promised host cities quantity of games — and no need to switch out the artificial turf fields that exist in all Canadian stadiums that currently hold more than 40K. And we learned from experience that having marquee teams might not create a visitor boom, because of the distances the fans need to travel from match to match. In 2015, the Americans played an elimination game in Edmonton; we expected there to a massive throng of American fans like we’d seen in Winnipeg. But, knowing that the U.S. team would be heading east with a win, the majority of American fans chose to skip Edmonton and, instead, head east from Winnipeg. Would a fan who watched his team play in Vancouver or Seattle then travel to Edmonton, knowing the next game might be in Toronto or Los Angeles?

The Russian World Cup in 2018 will give us a good idea how fans travel in a geographically sprawling tournament. In a lot of ways, it will provide a lot of information the United Bid Committee can learn from.

Grass isn’t always greener

Sure, FIFA does make some money available to improve stadiums; but the idea is that these venues will remain soccer stadiums after the tournament is over. So, that thinking has led to a lot of abandoned white-elephant venues left behind from previous World Cups. In Canada, we’ll want to put the artificial turf right back in after the soccer is over, to accommodate Canadian football tenants and other events into these multi-purpose venues.

So, even though this is being pitched as a World Cup-lite; that is, with the skeletons of many venues already in place, plus the hotels and infrastructure needed for a major international tournament, there is still a lot of outlay for the municipalities. And the question they’ll need to wrestle with is if it’s worth the effort to make all the needed preparations, from security (and who knows what measures will be needed by 2026) to grass practice fields to stadium improvements, for what could be one or two weekday mid-afternoon games between two nations most of the fans couldn’t find on the map.

That’s the tough sell.

But, if I’m Canadian Soccer Association President Steven Reed, more needs to be done to get the bid pushed to the forefront. He has till early September, when NHL training camps open and the news cycle becomes hockey, hockey, hockey.

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One Comment

  1. BCM

    August 17, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    Very thoughtful article, Steven. The high cost of renovations and infrastructure upgrade for even 3-4 games does not seem worth it, much less one match. I think we love to complain that Canada is often overlooked, hard done by, and should get more, but the economics just don’t work.

    Reply

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