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Paying for 2026

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Magazine deadlines are a bitch.

The idea for a World Cup 2026 theme issue was hatched when there was still snow on the ground. Before the first issue of Plastic Pitch came out, we knew that the second edition would focus on Canada’s World Cup bid.

Back then, we were pretty sure that Qatar would hold onto its World Cup 2022 hosting rights. We’re still pretty sure — if there wouldbe a re-vote on 2022, Qatar will still get a lot ofvotes from FIFA delegates who fear the political implications of awarding the first-ever World Cup to the Middle East and then taking it away.

But, as more and more ugliness about Qatar’s World Cup bid comes to light — more allegations of favours delivered to delegates and those who chose the delegates, more talk of money changing hands, more international pressure — we have to ask FIFA for transparency.

But, if FIFA did vote again and the 2022 World Cup were awarded to, let’s say, the United States, it could pose grave problems for Canada’s own World Cup hopes — and the theme of this issue. We were all working under an assumption that an Asian country was getting the World Cup; if it goes to a CONCACAF country instead, Canada would be — under the rules put in place for the 2018 and 2022 votes — screwed.

Those rules state that once a region has hosted a World Cup, it cannot get another until two cycles have passed. So, if the U.S. was to get 2022 as a replacement hosts, Canada would not be eligible to bid for either 2026 or 2030.

Because of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the possibility of a re-vote, we’d like to think that FIFA would relax the geography- based restriction for 2026. That is, if a 2022 re-vote does take place, FIFA should make the next World Cup open for any country to bid on. It’s simply not fair for countries like Canada or Mexico or Colombia (the latter two nations have pledged to bid, even though they aren’t down the road as far as Canada) to sink lots of dollars into 2026 bids on the basis that Qatar was getting 2022, and then possibly getting the carpet yanked out from them. They could be the unintended victims of a re-vote.

Or, maybe an early 2026 contender should be asked if it could be ready for 2022.

A World Cup would be too important for Canada to lose at this stage; not only do we need it to help develop ourselves as a soccer nation — just look what it did for the United States post-1994 — but it’s also important for this country, politically.

THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED IN PLASTIC PITCH #2

Let’s face it, Canada’s international image ain’t what it used to be. There’s a growing international sentiment that Canadians bathe in oil; we clearcut forests to make way for oilsands operations and we love to douse baby ducks and otters and seals and cute bear cubs in toxic tailings-pond goop.

The, ahem, “tar” sands, they’ve defined us internationally, haven’t they?

What do we as a country do when our national meal ticket is branded as “tar?”

And what does this have to do with soccer?

Everything. Or, it should.

We all know that it will take millions, no, billions to stage the World Cup. Stadiums will need to be rebuilt or built from the ground up. It’s a lot to ask of the taxpayers. This year’s World Cup in Brazil requires 12 stadiums, the smallest of which holds 41,000 people. As of right now, Canada has less than half the number stadiums that could kinda sorta host World Cup matches. We all saw the protests at the Confederations Cup on television, and learned how the billions and billions of public spending on Brazil’s World Cup divided a nation. Our citizens tend to be a little more on the meek side, but it’s hard to imagine any governing body would get a huge endorsement to spend billions on a soccer tournament – even if it is the biggest soccer tournament on the planet.

It would be hard to imagine any Canadian federal, provincial or municipal government readily taking on billions of debt to stage the 2026 tournament without some massive help from the private sector.

This is how the coming World Cup 2026 bid from the Canadian Soccer Association offers a large opportunity for our oil industry. Or, at least, it should offer great opportunities for the likes of Syncrude and Suncor, who have become whipping boys for selling the planet a commodity to which it’s absolutely addicted.

Our oil lobby has been spending millions on ad campaigns trying to convince outsiders that, it isn’t, well, the new Mordor.

But, instead of ads that aren’t working to change public opinion, what if Big Oil directed some of the millions towards stadiums and World Cup sponsorship? The world hates you, until you pay for a World Cup. If oil pays the freight for the biggest sociopolitical event on the planet, the World Cup could be the way we start showing off Canada the Good, again.

A World Cup helps a nation create its own mythology. We aren’t going to change the fact that we are a petrostate. But a World Cup would allow us to do what the federal government hasn’t been able to do over the last few years: To allow us to define ourselves to the world.

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