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The on-again, off-again affair between B.C. and FIFA has taken a positive swing, with Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart pledging up to $5 million to support a local bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
The province had originally backed out of being one of the host cities in the joint U.S./Canada/Mexico bid in 2018 over FIFA demands that Premier John Horgan deemed too arduous for taxpayers. But he did an about-face last July, saying the province is in a “totally different place” than 2018, and hinted Vancouver would be back in the running to be one of the host cities.
The U.S. will get 60 games, while Canada and Mexico will get 10 each, all spread over different host cities. Toronto and Edmonton are the two other cities bidding for games. Montreal had also been in the running but withdrew last summer over cost concerns.
“I’ve been working overtime, both behind the scenes with Soccer Canada, with FIFA, with First Nations, with partner municipalities, to make sure I do everything I can to make this successful,” Stewart said. “This is a very real possibility … Later this month or early April, you will see, if everything goes right, Vancouver on the list of host cities. And that’s so exciting for the city.
“You think about coming out of COVID … you think about the impacts on our businesses, just how tough it’s been on downtown businesses, if you think bringing a 30-day World Cup event to this city, with a fan zone where everybody can watch with, with all kinds of events connected with dignitaries, it’ll be the most exciting place on the planet.”
The chance to host Cup games was also bolstered by B.C. Place Stadium replacing its aging turf with a new FieldTurf ‘Vertex CORE’ playing surface. While the Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS play out of The Dome, the building’s larger CFL footprint makes it more attractive to FIFA, Stewart said.
“We’re actually almost on the top of the list when it comes to stadiums in terms of where FIFA would like to have games,” he said.
The city kicked in $1.5 million in 2015 for the Women’s World Cup, but will see a substantial increase to $5 million in cash for operating costs in 2026. The 2022 men’s Cup is set for this summer, and advance planning for 2026 is already moving along quickly.
“I’m working as hard as I can to get us on the list on a very short time frame and that’s why I thought it was important to make this announcement today, because this is literally moving ahead every day,” said Stewart. “We need to … make sure we have the best chance possible to host these games, but that we do it at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers. And that’s exactly my priority here.
“If you think about the potential benefits — they’re huge for the city. So I think a good level of investment is wise. But again, it’ll be (city) council’s call on this one.”