Opinion: Now or never, BC government's push on 2026 FIFA World Cup Vancouver draws near

Oct 21 2021, 9:51 pm

If Vancouver is to become one of the host cities of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the BC provincial government will need to step up its efforts in considering the opportunity over the coming weeks.

FIFA completed its first half of touring potential US host cities late last month, visiting East Coast cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, New York City/New Jersey, Miami, Nashville, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

The second half of the tour covering West Coast cities starts today, entailing Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Monterrey in Mexico will conclude on November 1.

In a statement to Daily Hive Offside, FIFA says the remaining unnamed US and Mexican bid cities, and those in Canada, will be visited by the end of November.

Los Angeles is noticeably excluded from the tour list of West Coast cities, but it is expected to be amongst the cities to be visited next month, given its newly built large stadium with ample amenities.

Other cities that will likely be visited include Mexico City and Guadalajara for Mexico’s role in the tri-nation hosting duties.

Potential Canadian host cities are now down to just two — Edmonton and Toronto — after Quebec’s provincial government announced in July 2021 that it had pulled its support for Montreal.

At the time, Quebec stated its reason for pulling out of Montreal’s bid was the high financial cost to the municipality and the province. The tri-nation United Bid Committee inclusion of Montreal was based on the premise that the Quebec government would ensure the controversial, dilapidated Olympic Stadium would be significantly upgraded to standards acceptable by FIFA for the global tournament.

Prior to the pandemic, the Quebec government had committed to spending at least $250 million to provide the Olympic Stadium with a new retractable roof. With the pandemic’s financial toll, insiders tell Daily Hive Offside there is now uncertainty that such an investment would still be made in time for 2026, and this is the leading reason for Quebec’s withdrawal.

Moreover, FIFA and the tri-nation organizing committee built the 2026 business plan that was centred on using readily available, quality sports venues and other existing infrastructure, reducing the need for any major capital costs for construction. Montreal’s inclusion would go against this sustainable business plan.

With that said, smaller necessary capital investments are proposed for BMO Field for Toronto’s pitch to be included. This past April, Toronto FC President Bill Manning said FIFA had given favourable feedback on its plan to increase the stadium’s capacity from the existing 30,000 to 46,000 seats.

World Cup stadiums are required to have a bare minimum of 40,000 seats, which is a standard BMO Field can already accomplish. It currently has a permanent capacity of 30,000 seats, along with existing allowances for a temporary expansion to 40,000 seats for special events such as the Grey Cup. It has yet to be determined whether the expansion to 46,000 seats would be temporary or permanent, but they would add to other major improvements made to the venue prior to the pandemic. It is also unclear exactly how these upgrades would be funded.

Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium seats 60,000, but its hospitality and amenity standards are lacking compared to other venues being considered by FIFA. If Edmonton were chosen, it would be the smallest market driving the World Cup in 2026.

That leads to Vancouver’s 54,500-seat BC Place Stadium, considered the flagship stadium in Canada after its complete overhaul a decade ago — making it a proven venue for world-class soccer after its key role in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, including the championship final. It is Canada Soccer’s ongoing venue of choice for hosting international tournaments, and one of the annual stops for World Rugby’s Canada Sevens tournament. Relatively minimal capital investments would be needed, such as temporary natural grass.

Other than stadium advantages, Vancouver has ample tourism, hospitality, and transportation infrastructure to support the World Cup and its influx of visitors.

But Vancouver also provides FIFA with optimal operational and field of play scheduling advantages. The inclusion of both Vancouver and Seattle could create a shared cluster for a tournament group stage.

Examples of similar group stage cluster possibilities could include between Los Angeles and San Francisco, between Toronto and northeastern US host cities, between Houston, Dallas, and Kansas City, between Atlanta and Orlando, and between the Mexican host cities.

The inclusion of Edmonton as a host city would require an additional time zone for a standalone city, which is a less-than-ideal scenario for FIFA.

The BC provincial government now holds the ball on whether Vancouver will be one of a dozen or more North American host cities for the expanded 48-team tournament format.

While some of the debate over Vancouver’s potential role has focused on the number of matches allocated, this is still up in the air and negotiable. It is often forgotten that BC Place Stadium would also host numerous qualifying matches in the lead up to the World Cup. There would also be a significant public fan festival throughout the duration of the month-long tournament, similar to the Live City festivals during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

There were also previous suggestions that BC Place Stadium could be the venue for one of three simultaneous opening ceremonies and matches — one for each host country — and that Vancouver Convention Centre could host the FIFA World Cup Draw. Vancouver would have more of a share of the World Cup benefits than most other host cities.

In July 2021, Premier John Horgan commented that he had reversed BC’s position on hosting the World Cup, after recently re-engaging in conversations with FIFA officials. His government was now open to hosting matches at BC Place Stadium, which is owned by the province.

“FIFA will not be looking for the sea and the sky in their ask from host cities,” said Horgan during a Sportsnet 650 interview. “So I think the negotiation is in a better place, and I’m pretty excited about it. I know sports fans in British Columbia will be as well. But it’s not a blank cheque. There were some pretty outrageous demands back in 2018, that [if] they’re still on the table then we’re not going to make a lot of progress. But we’re in conversation. I think that’s a good thing.”

The FIFA delegation touring potential host cities this fall is led by Concacaf’s president and FIFA vice president, Victor Montagliani, who lives in Vancouver and previously expressed disappointment when Horgan’s government withdrew from the initial process. At the time, the City of Vancouver also strongly disagreed with the provincial government’s decision.

FIFA is currently aiming to finalize the selection process of the host cities sometime in the first half of 2022.

The United Bid Committee, now the tri-nation organizing committee, formally excluded Vancouver from formal consideration in 2018, but at the end of the day it is FIFA’s final decision on the host cities and the number and stage of matches played in each venue. Through an informal negotiation process, FIFA has opened the door for Vancouver to be a part of the broader strategy to provide the 2026 tournament with the best footing possible, while also providing the obvious tourism, economic, cultural, and sporting benefits in the post-pandemic recovery context. The pandemic made evident just how paramount the tourism industry is to BC’s economy.

In a statement to Daily Hive Offside earlier this month, the BC Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport said, “The Province continues to discuss the opportunity to host the FIFA 2026 World Cup at BC Place with event organizers; however, no decisions have been made.”

 

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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