What do Baltimore, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Nashville, and even Edmonton have in common? They are amongst the group of cities in Canada, United States, and Mexico that could co-host the 23rd FIFA World Cup.
Vancouver, of course, is not included for purely self-inflicted reasons.
Earlier today, FIFA’s membership overwhelmingly voted 134-65 to award the joint North American bid over Morocco the rights to host the World Cup in 2026.
The United Bid fielded a total of 23 possible host cities – including Toronto, Montreal, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles – in its final bid plans to FIFA. However, a final narrowed list of between 12 and 16 official host cities will not be determined until 2021.
The BC provincial government made a unilateral last minute decision in March to pull Vancouver’s bid out of the running when it found disagreement with the requirements FIFA had placed. At the time, the City of Vancouver responded to the provincial government’s decision by saying it was “extremely disappointed”.
“The FIFA bid agreement contained clauses, which government felt left taxpayers at unacceptable risk of additional costs,” reiterated Lisa Beare, the BC Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, in response to today’s news of FIFA’s bid decision.
“We tried very hard to get assurances that addressed our concerns. Unfortunately, those assurances were not forthcoming.”
Chicago and Minneapolis also followed Vancouver by withdrawing their bids shortly afterward over similar disagreements with the United Bid Committee. Edmonton’s bid proceeded with only the support of its municipal government, which owns Commonwealth Stadium, as Alberta’s provincial government said it was unwilling to support the bid by its provincial capital.
But these cities are outliers; dozens of other jurisdictions were willing to take a calculated business risk for the coveted rights to become a host city.
The risk at this stage of planning remains minimal. The official host cities will not be selected until 2021, and prospective cities had an opt out clause out of the entire process.
This means BC could have kept a foot in the door on a potential hosting role until then, and the bulk of any investments towards hosting duties would not have been made until after Qatar 2022.
And for Vancouver, the odds of a major role in the 2026 tournament were highly in its favour, short of hosting the semi-finals and final.
In large part to its role as the host city of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver already has the necessary accommodations, airport, public transit, and tourism infrastructure in place to host an event on the calibre and size of the World Cup.
The city has BC Place – Canada’s flagship outdoor stadium. There is no question that the 54,000-seat venue is by far the best in the country.
Our infrastructure and experience with hosting major international events was exercised again in 2015 for the FIFA Women’s World Cup when Vancouver had a very key role for the tournament as the host of nine matches and the championship final. A number of qualifying matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup were also held at the stadium over the last few years.
Other host cities and countries for previous editions of the World Cup spent billions of dollars to build the infrastructure they require to host the tournament, but that was not the case for any city in the United Bid, particularly in Vancouver.
Vancouver would not have to make major renovations to its stadium, unlike Montreal, which is planning to spend more than $200 million on a retractable roof on an otherwise decrepit Olympic Stadium.
At most, the event would have cost tens of millions, not the billions some have falsely bellyached over and compared with the investments made for the 2010 Olympics.
So what exactly does Vancouver lose out on by not hosting the World Cup?
- Three to five World Cup matches, including potentially a quarterfinal and one of three tournament-opening games. That number may seem small, but this is actually a norm as most stadiums in previous editions of the World Cup host only a handful of matches. Stadiums with a larger capacity are generally able to host more matches as they are large enough to meet the higher capacity requirements for the semi-finals (60,000) and championship opener and final (80,000). The Women’s World Cup format is an exception and cannot be used as a comparison.
- Possibly the FIFA World Cup Draw. This high-profile, pre-tournament event would determine the group in which each of the 48 qualified national teams will play in. It would have likely been held at the Vancouver Convention Centre’s West Building.
- Major pre-tournament test events. BC Place Stadium would host many more soccer matches than just the World Cup matches. This includes a number of qualifying matches for the World Cup and matches for the 2025 FIFA Confederations Cup. There is a possibility FIFA could end the Confederations Cup after 2021, but if that happens there will still be a replacement equivalent such as an expanded version of the FIFA Club World Cup.
- FIFA Fan Festival. A month-long, highly elaborate, free FIFA Fan Festival near BC Place Stadium, similar to the scale and scope of Live City Yaletown during the Olympics.
- Economic benefits. According to the United Bid, each host city can expect between USD$160 million and USD$620 million in incremental economic activity from increased tourism and organizing committee spending.
While Vancouver clearly had what was required to become a superior host city, it also had the backing of Victor Montagliani, the Vice-President of FIFA and the President of CONCACAF. The Vancouverite is one of the world’s most powerful soccer executives, and he has had a major role in elevating Vancouver into becoming Canada’s soccer capital.
When asked today by Sportsnet 650 radio on whether there is still a chance that Vancouver could become a host city down the line, Montagliani firmly said “No”.
“It’s not going to happen, and the reality is it’s not about Vancouver. It’s about our country, and our country’s a little bit greater than any city. I love Vancouver, I am from Vancouver, but you know what it’s about our country and the game of football, which is a lot greater than any politician,” adding that “there was an option [to opt out]. There is never no risk in anything, but the risk was very, very low.”
Montagliani added that things could change, after all the World Cup is still eight years away.
“Listen, it’s in eight years,” he continued. “A lot of things can happen in eight years… And I know you wanted it, I wanted it too. But I don’t get to make that decision. Someone else did.”
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