It’s been a while since Canada has appeared in the FIFA World Cup. More than 30 years, in fact.
Well, it appears the odds of a second trip to the biggest stage will increase significantly, as FIFA has announced that the World Cup will expand from 32 teams to 48, in time for the 2026 tournament.
Sixteen groups of three teams each will compete, with the top-two teams moving on to a 32-team knockout stage. It’s a dramatic increase in teams for the World Cup, which last expanded in 1998 from 24 teams to 32.
Now, if you’re saying to yourself: ‘Canada is ranked 117th in the world (13th in CONCACAF), they’re going to need more teams than that!’ Well, you’re right. They’re still going to need to improve their play on the field to make it into a 48-team World Cup.
That is, unless they host the tournament and receive an automatic berth.
With the 2018 World Cup awarded to Russia, and the 2022 World Cup set for Qatar, 2026 is the next tournament up for grabs.
In an effort to expand the game globally, FIFA has recently added a rule that countries who are from confederations that have hosted the last two World Cups are ineligible, which means that both Europe and Asia are out of the running in 2026. That also removes Australia from consideration, given that they now play out of the Asian Football Confederation.
That leaves minimal options for countries capable of hosting the world spectacle, particularly given that Brazil and South Africa have hosted in recent years.
This should open it up for the World Cup to return to North America for the first time since 1994.
The United States is a natural fit, given their infrastructure is ready to go, and because the sport has grown by leaps and bounds since USA ’94.
Mexico has the capability of hosting, as evidenced by the job they did as hosts in 1970 and 1986.
But what about Canada?
The Canadian Soccer Association announced their intention to bid for the 2026 tournament back in 2014, so there’s clearly an desire to host. Canada also successfully hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2015 and the U-20 World Cup in 2007, which should help their chances.
Despite the struggles of our national team in the last 20 years, the appetite for soccer is strong in Canada. Look no further than huge attendance figures for Canada-Mexico in Vancouver, or MLS playoff matches in Montreal and Toronto.
Since the tournament expanded to 32 teams, most World Cup hosts have used 10 to 12 stadiums, although the expanded format bumps the total matches from 64 to 80, and that could affect the minimum stadium requirements.
With brand new large-format stadiums popping up in Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton, and Ottawa in recent years, our country is perhaps more well prepared for a World Cup now than ever before.
The only large stadium in Canada with a natural grass playing surface is BMO Field in Toronto, so temporary grass fields would be an extra cost to any other stadiums looking to host matches.
The biggest hurdle of hosting a World Cup for Canada is the minimum capacity requirement. FIFA requires that a stadium of at least 80,000 be used for the opening game and the final, 60,000 for the semi-finals, and 40,000 for all other games.
All CFL stadiums have the ability to be expanded to 40,000 for Grey Cup, while the Olympic Stadium in Montreal has the largest capacity at 66,308. ‘The Big O’ is the biggest, but also the most poorly maintained, something that would have to change in order to be considered.
“If you take the city of Montreal, if they’re looking to put their hat in the ring, you’re probably looking at something new, or a big investment in a stadium like Olympic Stadium because obviously it would not meet the criteria as it stands here today,” CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said on TSN Radio in Vancouver on Tuesday.
Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton is next biggest at 66,000, followed by BC Place in Vancouver at 54,500.
If you’re good at math, you’ve already figured out that that leaves Canada at least one 80,000-seat stadium short. Would we build one?
Toronto could use a new stadium for the Blue Jays, although it would make sense for it to be baseball-specific, and nowhere near 80,000 in capacity. There have been rumours about MLB returning to Montreal, and they would need a new stadium for that, but like Toronto it would make sense to be baseball-specific and not close to 80,000.
The only city that could potentially use an 80,000-seat stadium would be Toronto in the event that they received an NFL franchise. But given the potential affect that could have on the CFL, there’s virtually no chance of getting public funding for such a proposal.
A new stadium could be built with temporary seats to fit the 80,000-seat requirement, although that would be costly and not ideal.
Enter an alternative option: co-hosting.
For the first time since the 2002 World Cup hosted by Japan and South Korea, FIFA is allowing multi-country bids.
Canada could co-host with the United States, which makes a lot of sense for our country.
They could include a third country as well, according to Montagliani.
“I think the opportunity is there, and now that the groundwork has been set, I think the next discussions will probably be between Canada, the US, and Mexico.”
The question is, would the US want to share?
Given their population and infrastructure, they wouldn’t need to.
“I think you have to be open to it,” Montagliani said. “On a lot of levels, it’s probably the better way to go because I think it would grow the game pan-regionally.”
The United States doesn’t need Canada in order to host, but if FIFA is as steadfast at growing the game globally as they appear to be, it might make sense to throw Canada a bone.