Where Vancouver stands with regards to hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup

Nov 23 2021, 10:08 pm

While 22 cities in Canada, the United States, and Mexico have moved a step closer to hosting FIFA World Cup matches in 2026, Vancouver still appears to be on the sidelines.

Vancouver’s not dead yet, but a once-in-a-lifetime chance to host the men’s FIFA World Cup is in jeopardy.

A FIFA delegation led by FIFA Vice President and East Vancouver native Victor Montagliani visited Toronto on Monday, as part of the last official candidate host city site visit for the 2026 World Cup. FIFA also visited Edmonton on November 17.

“During each stop, the FIFA delegation visited key infrastructure, including stadiums, training sites and Fan Festival venues, and held discussions with a variety of city-related stakeholders on an array of key matters, such as infrastructure, transport, sustainability and legacy,” Canada Soccer announced in a media release.

But what about Vancouver?

“Vancouver declined to be a Candidate Host City,” a Canada Soccer spokesperson told Daily Hive. “There will be no site visit to Vancouver.”

Three candidate host cities were visited in Mexico, plus another 17 in the United States, where most of the World Cup matches will take place in 2026. Canada and Mexico are set to host 10 matches each during the 60-game tournament, with 40 matches going to the US.

“With Host Cities being essential stakeholders of the FIFA World Cup, these visits have laid the foundations for the tournament to be delivered successfully across all three countries,” Montagliani said in a Canada Soccer media release.

“What we have seen are truly outstanding bids, in light of which we are more certain than ever that 2026 will be a significant milestone in football history. We would like to reiterate our appreciation to all the candidate host cities and the three host associations for their tremendous efforts and dedication to this process.”

The BC government pulled out of the North American World Cup bid back in 2018, with Premier John Horgan saying at the time that FIFA essentially wanted a “blank cheque” signed. Vancouver wasn’t alone in pulling out, as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Glendale did the same in the United States.

The United bid received support in 2018 from Toronto, Edmonton, and Montreal as the lone cities from Canada. But when Montreal pulled out in July of this year, Horgan said it created “a real opportunity for Vancouver” and that the “situation for [FIFA] had changed.”

Horgan said that BC was “in a completely different situation” back in July, and added that he had a “good discussion” with a representative from FIFA. Officials met with the BC government back in April.

“FIFA will not be looking for the sea and the sky in their ask from host cities,” Horgan said in an interview on Sportsnet 650 on July 19. “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.”

Despite those positive words from Horgan, it’s been very quiet on the FIFA front since then. Behind the scenes, there is a feeling locally that the government isn’t showing enough urgency.

“Our government carefully assesses all sport event hosting opportunities,” the BC Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport told Daily Hive in an email.

“We look forward to hearing from Canada Soccer about whether the financial, operational, and legal risks, which led us to pull out in 2018 as a host city can be addressed.”

While those concerns are valid and BC is still be open to hosting matches, time is running out.

Part of that is understandable, as devastating floods hit BC just as FIFA delegates visited the country ahead of Canada’s match against Mexico in Edmonton on November 16. But if Vancouver is to get back in, important discussions between the BC government and FIFA need to happen quickly, as FIFA says it expects to finalize host cities early next year, following a “thorough assessment.”

Vancouver is surely a desirable location for organizers, given the city’s popularity as a tourist hub and the fact that BC Place is the best stadium of its kind in the country. It’s also Montagliani’s hometown, and the FIFA Vice President is one of the most influential people in the sport.

Vancouver could form a geographic cluster with Seattle, which is one of 17 cities in the running to host matches south of the border. The 17 American candidate host cities still in the running include: Boston, Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando, Washington DC, Baltimore, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, Miami, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Monterrey, Mexico City, and Guadalajara are the candidate host cities remaining in Mexico.

Not only does Vancouver currently appear to be on the outside looking in for the 2026 tournament, the west coast could get snubbed entirely during Canada’s efforts to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Toronto hosted Canada’s first three matches during the final stage of World Cup qualifying, with the men’s national team going to Edmonton for the last two matches. Given BC Place has a retractable roof, Vancouver would be the natural choice for Canada’s next home match against USA on January 30 — although travel considerations don’t help Vancouver’s case. Recent reports suggest that game might be played in Southern Ontario instead.

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