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Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver vie for selection as FIFA set to announce 2026 World Cup host cities

Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver vie for selection as FIFA set to announce 2026 World Cup host cities

Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver vie for selection as FIFA set to announce 2026 World Cup host cities

FIFA is set to announce its host cities for the 2026 World Cup on Thursday with Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver the three Canadian cities seeking selection.

In all, 22 candidate cities have raised their hand to stage matches for the expanded 48-team men’s tournament that will be hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico.

The announcement will be made at a news conference in New York.

When FIFA selected the North American bid as joint host in June 2018, marking the first time three counties have combined to host men’s soccer showcase event, the number of host Canadian cities was initially pegged at three.

Recent reports have suggested that FIFA could select 10-12 host cities from the US for the tournament, Mexico with three and Canada reduced to two.

Montreal dropped out last August after the Quebec provincial government withdrew its support, citing cost overruns that would have been difficult to justify to taxpayers. It was replaced in April by Vancouver, which made an initial bid in 2017, then withdrew in 2018 with Premier John Horgan citing the unknown costs of hosting the event.

Former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies walks to the dressing room at BC Place stadium in Vancouver in 2018. The Vancouver venue is one of three Canadian stadiums that could be selected on June 16 as a host venue for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The provincial government changed its mind last summer with Melanie Mark, BC’s minister of tourism, arts, culture and sport, saying hosting the event would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for soccer fans and the province’s tourism sector.

Vancouver hosted nine games during the 2015 Women’s World Cup, including the final, which drew more than 50,000 fans. Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium also hosted games in 2015.

Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton is pictured in 2021. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Toronto was not part of the 2015 women’s World Cup, instead hosting the Pan-American Games.

If Toronto and Vancouver are selected, both will have work to do.

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Vancouver’s BC Place has an artificial playing surface which would need to be replaced. FIFA requires all World Cup games must kae place on natural grass.

Toronto’s BMO Field will need to be expanded to bring it up to the FIFA minimum capacity of 40,000-plus. BMO Field’s current capacity for a soccer match is listed at 30,000. Toronto FC President Bill Manning says those plans for increased capacity have already been submitted as part of Toronto’s bid process.

The Major League Soccer club is owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which also owns the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Argonauts and Marlies.

Newly-renovated BMO Field in Toronto is seen in a file photo from 2016. There are 22 cities bidding to host soccer matches at the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

‘Everything is done in-house by FIFA’

Alan Rothenberg, former president of US Soccer thought back to when stadiums were picked for the 1994 tournament he headed in the United States.

“They gave the rights to the host country, and the host country basically ran the whole thing,” he said. “Here, everything is done in-house by FIFA. So it’s been a really long and arduous process. The terms have been incredibly difficult for cities to cope with.”

Seventeen stadiums in 16 areas remain in contention to be among 10-12 selected from the US The US will host 60 of the 80 games under FIFA’s plan, including all from the quarterfinals on, and there was little doubt about the venues for 10 games each in the other nations.

Last time, the nine US stadiums were announced during a Waldorf-Astoria news conference 816 days before the opener. This time, the decisions will be revealed by FIFA in a Fox television studio 1,456 days before the likely start.

In handicapping the bidders, there appeared to be several tiers:

—Locks: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, along with SoFi Stadium in Inglewood or the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

—In the hunt: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta; M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore; Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts; Houston’s NRG Stadium; Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri; Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida; Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee; Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia; Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California; and Lumen Field in Seattle.

—Least likely: Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati; Empower Field at Mile High in Denver; and Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

“This country has even more than 17 cities capable of hosting the World Cup, and it will be a pity for those that miss out,” said Telemundo’s Andres Cantor, who has broadcast the tournament since 1990 and will co-host the announcement. “But I don’t think it’s going to take away from the desire of the soccer fan to attend the game, wherever their country lands in 2026.”

Rothenberg said the decision remained uncertain in the final week between SoFi, which may need pricey renovations to create a wider field, and the Rose Bowl.

“Even at this moment, there’s calls going on all day long trying to sort it out,” he said Tuesday. “There will be discussions between the LA host committee and FIFA right up almost to the moment of the announcement. The costs of LA are a huge part of the difficulty.”

1st 48-nation World Cup

Just two of the contending stadiums hosted games in 1994, the Rose Bowl joined by Orlando. Dozens of training complexes have been built for MLS teams, creating a far better infrastructure than at the first World Cup in the US, when Italy worked out at The Pingry School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and the US practiced ahead of its opener on a wind-swept field at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

“It’s completely different from the standpoint that in a lot of these cities there’s a base of fans that have been sort of built up because of MLS,” said Tony Meola, the US starting goalkeeper at that ’94 Cup. “We know Los Angeles and New York and Miami always had soccer fans, and they weren’t necessarily American soccer fans, but they were fans of some teams around the world. I think we’ve got just a little bit more of a fever for the game. From a fan’s perspective, the infrastructure in the cities are so much more developed. And tickets will never be a problem in our country if we host the World Cup every four years.”

All US stadiums forecast capacities of 60,000 or larger. Three have retractable roofs and one a fixed roof. Ten have artificial turf but would switch to temporary grass.

This will be the first 48-nation World Cup, up from the 32-team format used since 1998. In a tournament likely to run from June 11 to July 12, but possibly start and end a week later, there will be 16 groups of three nations. Each team will play two first-round games instead of three as part of an awkward arrangement in which one nation in each group opens against an opponent who will have already played. The top two in each group advance to a 32-nation knockout bracket.

Revenue has skyrocketed: The 1994 Cup drew a record 3.59 million fans and grossed $580 million US, which produced a profit of $133.25 million for FIFA and $50 million for the US organizing committee. FIFA said the 2018 World Cup in Russia produced $5.357 billion in revenue over the four-year cycle and a $3.533 billion surplus.

FIFA requires bidders to obtain “a limited tax exemption” for FIFA, teams and other entities involved, and the Missouri Legislature last month approved a sales tax exemption for June and July 2026. Chicago dropped out in 2018 over FIFA’s demands.

Rothenberg anticipates many of US states and cities will refuse to comply.

“I think that’s a fair assumption in most of the jurisdictions. Some of them, they may just build it into the stadium price and other things, but getting an actual waiver may be difficult,” he said. “Ultimately, it just means another cost that the host committee, host city, is going to be responsible for.”

Candidates, Cities and Stadiums

CANADA

Edmonton, Commonwealth Stadium; Toronto, BMO Field; Vancouver, BC Place Stadium.

MEXICO

Guadalajara, Akron Stadium; Mexico City, Estadio Azteca; Monterrey, Estadio BBVA.

UNITED STATES

Arlington, Texas, AT&T Stadium; Atlanta, Mercedes Benz Stadium; Baltimore, M&T Bank Stadium; Cincinnati, Paul Brown Stadium; Denver, Empower Field at Mile High; East Rutherford, NJ, MetLife Stadium; Foxborough, Mass., Gillette Stadium; Houston, NRG Stadium; Inglewood, California, SoFi Stadium; Kansas City, Missouri, Arrowhead Stadium; Miami Gardens, Florida, Hard Rock Stadium; Nashville, Tennessee, Nissan Stadium; Orlando, Fla., Camping World Stadium; Pasadena, California, Rose Bowl; Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field; Santa Clara, California, Levi’s Stadium; Seattle, Lumen Field.

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