Could Canada host the FIFA World Cup in 2026? That is part of the long-term strategy of the Canadian Soccer Association, which recently announced its plan to bid for the 2026 global tournament in its four-year outlook.
Unlike the International Olympic Committee’s rules for the host city procedure, FIFA runs on a continental policy for choosing the host nation of its quadrennial men’s tournament. A continental confederation is not permitted to bid for the consecutive two tournaments after a nation within its jurisdiction has hosted a World Cup.
This means European countries will not be able to bid until 2030 as Russia will be hosting the 2018 World Cup. Asian nations are also out of the bidding process until at least 2034 following Qatar’s host role for the 2022 World Cup, which is currently being disputed over allegations of bribery.
Australia would be a strong technical contender, but timezone differences are a well-known issue for television ratings as experienced during the Sydney 2000 Olympics. More importantly, it recently joined the the Asian Football Confederation and can only submit a bid in 2034 at the very earliest like other Asian nations.
That leaves African and South American nations, Canada, Mexico and the United States as eligible contenders for 2026.
However, any African bid outside of South Africa would require enormous investments in both infrastructure and public safety. A South American bid also shares similar costs and risks, especially after FIFA’s chaotic experience with Brazil’s preparations, despite being the economic powerhouse of the continent.
The race to host the 2026 World Cup could very well come down to the three largest and wealthiest nations within the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF): Canada, Mexico and the United States.
In recent years, the costs of hosting the World Cup has grown exponentially, although much of this has to do with FIFA’s choice of host nations.
Germany 2006 cost just less than $2 billion due to the presence of existing infrastructure, but South Africa’s role for 2010 required numerous new stadiums and infrastructure, costing the public treasury $3.9 billion.
The costs ballooned to over $11 billion four years later for Brazil not only because of the need for infrastructure and security to support the event in the developing nation but also due to reckless spending, mismanagement, flagrant cost overruns and allegations of corruption over construction contracts.
It went against the advice of FIFA to host an 8 stadium city tournament instead of a 12 stadium city event, such as a new stadium in the middle of the Amazon rainforest that is only accessible by water or flight and will likely be unused once the tournament ends.
Auditors have also found many cases of overpricing, including a $4,700 bill to transport prefabricated stadium grandstands that somehow ended up costing the government $1.5 million.
For 2018, Russia is expected to spend $20 billion on another lavish global sporting event, which comes after its record $50 billion expense for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
But the all-time record goes to Qatar and its $220 billion cost for the 2022 World Cup. The tiny Arab nation of 2.2 million people has a geographical size of about one-third of Vancouver Island and its summer temperatures swell to 50°C, forcing FIFA to reschedule the tournament for the winter when Qatar’s promised air conditioned stadiums proved to be unfeasible.
All of the infrastructure the Arab nation needs and has promised for the event is virtually nonexistent, to the extent that it is building from scratch the entire new cities that will host the stadiums – including the new city (and stadium) that will host the final match.
Canada’s transportation and hospitality infrastructure is well developed and the cost of hosting the event should instead largely come from stadium, operational and security expenses.
The nation’s various levels of government will be responsible for the costs associated with stadiums and security while FIFA is to cover the vast majority of the operational costs of organizing and executing the event. For 2014, FIFA spent $2 billion on organizing the tournament and the local Brazilian organizing committee.
The brunt of the costs for a Canadian World Cup will come from stadium construction. But even so, many of the venues required to host the World Cup in the country already exist as CFL stadiums, albeit some new builds and major renovations will be needed to improve aesthetics, seating, lighting, sound, visual displays, accessibility, player and media facilities, and the installation of FIFA required playing fields.
FIFA requires a minimum of 8 stadiums to host the World Cup, and for a country the size of Canada an efficient and compact logistical plan with less stadiums and cities would be regarded more positively for the air travel that teams and spectators would have to undertake between competition sites.
All of the stadiums must seat at least 40,000 spectators, with exception to the minimum 80,000-seat stadium for the opening match and championship final and the minimum 60,000-seat stadiums required for the semi-final matches.
Here are Canada’s existing stadiums by order of largest seating capacity:
FIFA stipulates that major Fan Zones, similar to Vancouver 2010’s Live City festivities at David Lam Park and Larwill Park, are required within close proximity of each stadium venue. Training facilities must also be provided for each of the 32 national teams competing in the tournament.
The idea of hosting the FIFA World Cup is not a new one for the CSA and has been on the organization’s radar for at least a decade.
Local tourism officials on the West Coast have previously discussed a joint Vancouver-Seattle bid, but they may have misunderstood the concept of the FIFA World Cup being hosted by countries and not regions.
Major logistical issues experienced during the 2002 Japan-Korea World Cup have also led FIFA to step away from the idea of allowing any other two-nation joint hosts.
FIFA has taken great interest with Canada in recent years, acknowledging the immense development and popularity of football/soccer in the nation.
While the Canadian men’s team did not qualify for 2014 and is currently ranked 110th in the world just behind Bahria and ahead of Niger, the Canadian women’s team is now amongst the world’s best – an unimaginable feat even ten years ago.
If Canada were to host the World Cup, it would automatically qualify to play in the competition, but its performance would need to greatly improve prior to ensure that it does not hinder the international perception of Canada.
The country has also held various official FIFA tournaments over the years and will host the organization’s second largest tournament in the summer of 2015: the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Matches will be held at six cities across the country, including Vancouver at BC Place Stadium which will host eight matches and the championship final.
In August 2014, Canada will also be hosting the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. It has previously hosted other minor FIFA tournaments including the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the inaugural U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2002.
The Canadian bid team could make a case that selecting Canada would greatly foster the sport across the country and inspire a new generation of soccer players. Soccer, not hockey, is already the nation’s most played and accessible sport and Canadians ranked eleventh amongst all nationalities for buying the most tickets to 2014 Brazil matches.
When it comes to major event organization, Canada has delivered modest, low-risk and relatively low-cost events and this is seen with both the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and the upcoming Toronto 2015 Pan American Games.
After much criticism with its selection of Brazil, Russia and Qatar as World Cup hosts, this low-key, uniquely conservative Canadian approach could be a welcome change for FIFA.
Featured Image: BC Place