Canada is bidding to host the 2026 World Cup, and it could be worth billions

Canadian Soccer Association confident tournament costs can be controlled

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Canadian men's soccer player Tosaint Ricketts against Denmark

The Canadian men’s soccer team has only qualified for the World Cup once, in 1986. (Joshua Pearson)

The on-field magic in Brazil may be winding down, but the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) hopes that Canadian footy fans will soon be watching the sport’s best players a little closer to home. The CSA announced plans to bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup in its four-year plan in January.

The men’s soccer team currently sits between Bahrain and Niger in the international rankings, but that’s precisely the point, according to the CSA’s strategic plan. Hosting the tournament, it hopes, will provide a boost to the sport’s national profile.

But hosting would be an expensive process: the bill for the 2014 edition has ballooned to an estimated $11.3 billion and the Samba nation’s citizens aren’t happy about it. Brazil defied expectations just by getting promised infrastructure ready (barely) in time.

READ: Seven international predictions for 2014: Brazil’s World Cup is a financial fiasco »

New stadiums and renovations accounted for much of that cost, with FIFA requiring at least eight 40,000-plus seater venues and one stadium with a capacity of 80,000  to host the tournament final. Canada’s largest venue is Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, and the city has expressed an interest in spearheading a 2026 hosting operation. But the CSA doesn’t see a need for a lot of new construction because many existing and planned CFL venues are expandable. “I believe we have enough there to put a successful bid together in the stadia that are currently available and maybe one more that would meet the highest needs of FIFA,” says Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Association.

Chart showing Canada's ten largest stadium capacities

Canada will play host to the 2015  Women’s World Cup as well as the U-20 Women’s World Cup later this year, and successes with those events could pave the way for a shot at FIFA’s biggest prize. FIFA has yet to announce the timeline and requirements for a 2026 bid. Montopoli says he has been in contact with staff in the office of Minister of State (Sport) Bal Gosal to discuss the CSA’s plans; Gosal says he’s had no official contact yet, but that the federal government is open to the possibility of a bid.

Recent hosting choices have aroused significant controversy, with allegations of corruption and concerns over temperatures at the 2022 Qatar tournament. Those scandals, coupled with negative publicity around the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, could work in Canada’s favour, according to Robert VanWynsberghe, a professor at UBC. “I think what you’ll see is that the IOC and FIFA are going to go to more conservative hosts,” he suggested. “You might want to call it a Canadian hosting experience — kind of boring, but you can count on it.”

READ: Soccer in sun and shadow »

Would anyone come out to watch? Montopoli suggests that 300,000–500,000 fans would flood into the country to watch their teams compete, but VanWynsberghe says that number would be offset by the drop in regular tourists who don’t want to get caught up in the tournament. “The tourist piece I think is a bit of a red herring, it just doesn’t seem to work out,” he said.

And what about Canadians? With a team mired in the lower reaches of the FIFA rankings, there would seem to be little incentive to flock to stadiums to watch our boys in red be crushed by the opposition. There’s a huge appetite for soccer in this country, Montopoli counters. “Of all the 209 FIFA members in the world, we ranked number 10 in terms of number of tickets bought for Brazil 2014,” he notes. “The 10th spot would put us number one for non-participating countries.”

Montreal Impact vs. TFC and Olympic Stadium

Montreal Impact take on Toronto FC in MLS play at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, one of Canada’s largest sports venues (Abdallah)

The 1994 World Cup in the US is widely credited with a renewal in soccer interest that led eventually to the formation of Major League Soccer (MLS), and Montopoli points to a similar example closer to home. “The 2007 U-20 World Cup brought to our country a brand-new soccer-specific stadium [BMO Field], and in turn that stadium brought to us MLS professional soccer [in the Toronto FC franchise],” he explained.

READ: MLSE makes a strong statement naming Tim Leiweke new CEO »

Still, with players like Bosnia goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and Holland’s Jonathan de Guzman opting to represent the countries of their roots or professional clubs rather than wear the maple leaf, Canadian soccer would have to come a long, long way to make a competitive showing in 2026.

But Canadians should hope that a Canuck team on home soil would go all the way. There’s more than bragging rights at stake — according to Goldman Sachs, World Cup-winning nations experience an (admittedly temporary) economic boost in the aftermath of their triumph. And Montopoli estimates the economic impact of hosting would be “in the billions.”

A bid is still a few years away, and the CSA will have a lot of work to do to convince FIFA that a country that has only made it to one World Cup  should be trusted with hosting it. In the meantime, Canadian soccer fans will just have to make do with watching their heroes on TV.

9 comments on “Canada is bidding to host the 2026 World Cup, and it could be worth billions

  1. I believe a HUGE factor in bringing the World Cup to Canada is if the CSA are committed to converting the many artificial field surfaces to natural grass!!!

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  2. Is BMO field the only natural grass stadium we have?

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  3. what would be the point if we just end up humiliating ourselves in the group stages?

    i think we need to have a team that could at least get past the group stages before we decide to host the games. I dont know if we do or not, but i havent seen canada in any world cup games so i doubt so

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    • Canada is the only G8 country that has not hosted the World Cup (Russia is hosting the next one in 2018). As host country, Canada would be guaranteed to play 3 games. I believe by the year 2026, Canada will have a competitive national team in place. When the USA hosted the World Cup in 1994, they made it to the quarter finals despite the fact that the MLS or no decent domestic professional soccer league was in place to draw players from. Canada now has three cities with an MLS team. The Vancouver Whitecaps joined the MLS in 2011 & the Montreal Impact joined in 2012. Along with Toronto FC, all three teams have youth academies in place (Toronto’s academy was started in 2008) to draw players from. At the moment these academies have not been in place long enough to draw decent talent from but I believe that will change by the time 2026 comes around. The one thing Canada must do to be competitive in the 2026 World Cup is hire a decent FOREIGN coach. The USA hired Bora Milutinović who has coached 5 national teams in the past & guided 4 of those teams beyond the group stage (Mexico in 1986, Costa Rica in 1990, the USA in 1994, and Nigeria in 1998. As for the Stadia that would be needed to host the World Cup, “Canuckred” has shown how stadiums that are already in place or that are being proposed for other sports such as the CFL can be temporarily expanded to meet FIFA’s capacity requirements (see the following link: http://imgur.com/a/5ZfCR). On a personal level, I would love to finally hear the Canadian national anthem being played at a World Cup. I fully support Canada’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

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    • Soccer in Canada is growing pretty fast. We’ll have another 12 years to build a team. Some of our future players that will be playing are only 10 right now haha

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  4. Actually we’d be lucky to even get to the group stage – ie. to be in the tournament at all. As of 2010, the host is no longer guaranteed a place. So we’d have to qualify like anyone else. We’ve only qualified once, in 1986, and scored no goals in the group stage. Most of the time, we’re nowhere near qualifying.

    Canada’s status as a non-soccer power is just the most glaring reason why this is a terrible idea, among many others (cost, lacking large stadiums, lacking stadiums with natural turf, lacking 10-12 cities of big enough size and infrastructure to host games and use stadiums afterwards, no domestic league, etc).

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    • That is not true. The host gets an automatic spot in the tournament.. What would be the point of having the world cup in your country if your country wasn’t even playing in the tournament.

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  5. Well if you can’t qualify for the World Cup finals, at least you can get in with enough money on the bid. Canada might be the first country in World Cup country where the hosting country did not make it past the groups. (I am still expecting Qatar is going to have their rewarding revoked)

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  6. Canada is the only G8 country that has not hosted the World Cup (Russia is hosting the next one in 2018). As host country, Canada would be guaranteed to play 3 games. I believe by the year 2026, Canada will have a competitive national team in place. When the USA hosted the World Cup in 1994, they made it to the quarter finals despite the fact that the MLS or no decent domestic professional soccer league was in place to draw players from. Canada now has three cities with an MLS team. The Vancouver Whitecaps joined the MLS in 2011 & the Montreal Impact joined in 2012. Along with Toronto FC, all three teams have youth academies in place (Toronto’s academy was started in 2008) to draw players from. At the moment these academies have not been in place long enough to draw decent talent from but I believe that will change by the time 2026 comes around. The one thing Canada must do to be competitive in the 2026 World Cup is hire a decent FOREIGN coach. The USA hired Bora Milutinović who has coached 5 national teams in the past & guided 4 of those teams beyond the group stage (Mexico in 1986, Costa Rica in 1990, the USA in 1994, and Nigeria in 1998. As for the Stadia that would be needed to host the World Cup, “Canuckred” has shown how stadiums that are already in place or that are being proposed for other sports such as the CFL can be temporarily expanded to meet FIFA’s capacity requirements (see the following link: http://imgur.com/a/5ZfCR). On a personal level, I would love to finally hear the Canadian national anthem being played at a World Cup. I fully support Canada’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

    Reply

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