Nothing like a Friday morning to-do list to suddenly make things feel real.
The cities of Toronto and Vancouver got the parties started on Thursday evening and were dead right to. Being confirmed as host venues for the world’s biggest sporting event is more than enough reason to pop a few corks.
But now the work begins. Both cities have significant upgrades and changes to make before the world turns up in four years’ time, with Toronto’s BMO Field the least ready venue of the 16 confirmed in New York during Thursday evening’s all-singing, all-dancing and all drawn-out FIFA ceremony for its sprawling 2026 men’s World Cup.
“It’s amazing that the World Cup is finally coming to Canada,” said TFC midfielder Jonathan Osorio, Canada’s representative in Manhattan. “It’s something as kids it was hard to even dream of.”
Now the real dream begins. The tension Thursday was largely reserved for the US host cities, where 16 into 11 meant some grand old towns and venues wouldn’t go. The only reason there were 11 spots for the dominant partner of this first ever tripartite World Cup was because Edmonton had been shunted to one side.
The original bid book that won the United 2026 campaign the 23rd edition of the men’s World Cup had promised three host cities from both Mexico and Canada and 10 from the US But that was 2018 and the intervening four years had seen Canada’s contenders hot-step in and out. Vancouver was the first to disappear, soon after the North American bid was successful. When Montreal did likewise last summer it looked as though Toronto and Edmonton would be selected by default.
But FIFA vice president and CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani convinced his hometown to re-enter the fray and, once Vancouver’s return was green-lit by the BC government, things looked complicated for Edmonton. The northernmost candidate was already hampered by demands made of FIFA by the Alberta government over their potential funding for Commonwealth Stadium’s inclusion.
After much bluster and buildup it was left to Montagliani to finally get the show on the road Thursday as successful cities were unveiled in regional clusters — West, Central and East.
Vancouver, a city that hosted the final of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, was the first unveiled for the men’s version of 2026, followed by Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Guadalajara. The video feed cut to celebrity and prominent representatives and our eyes were first met by BC’s finest crooner Michael Bublé sitting at a piano in an Alphonso Davies No. 19 Canadian jersey.
Things moved on to the Central area and Edmonton’s flickering hopes were extinguished. Kansas City, Dallas, Atlanta and Houston made the cut along with Monterrey and Mexico City.
Commonwealth Stadium had hosted an instantly iconic Canadian sporting occasion this past winter when John Herdman’s men’s team defeated Mexico on a frigid night when the arena became the Iceteca. But the Alberta government’s reported demands that Edmonton get a minimum five games, including two in the knockout stages, likely ranked FIFA hierarchy.
Toronto was the first city confirmed in the East with Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and New York/New Jersey rounding things out. All of which left Cincinnati, Denver, Nashville, Orlando, Pasadena and Baltimore on the outside looking in. A pity but not nearly as much of a shame as a World Cup passing through these parts and neither Chicago nor Montreal, two incredible sporting and cultural hubs, being involved. But they had their (financial) reasons. We can’t blame them.
So the to-do list? BMO Field needs to get bigger. FIFA rules call for a minimum 40,000 capacity for group stage matches and TFC’s home currently holds just 30,000. The city and MLSE will get busy filling in the north and south ends (likely temporarily) and adding a new big screen. In Vancouver, the turf surface which caused the world’s best female players much justified angst in 2015 has to go. Things have to be natural for the men’s tournament.
There will be FIFA fan zones — plazas for locals and visitors alike who couldn’t get a ticket — to plan. There are security and transport issues to be tackled too, with representatives from both cities likely to visit this winter’s World Cup in Qatar to get an idea of how overblown a FIFA circus really is.
“It’s very special to bring the World Cup to Canada. It will be the greatest celebration Canada has ever witnessed. Trust me,” said FIFA president Gianni Infantino in New York, teasing the hyperbole we can expect between now and 2026. “I think this part of the world doesn’t realize what will happen here in 2026. The world will be invading Canada, Mexico and the United States.”
Infantino shirked a question on sites for the opening match and the final, although New York looks a strong shot for the latter with Mexico City’s historic Azteca a good bet for the opener. With the 2026 tournament seeing the big show balloon out from 32 to 48 teams, comprising 16 groups of three, we can expect host cities to be paired up to ease some travel issues in the group stage. It’s not yet clear whether Toronto and Vancouver will split the 10 games earmarked for Canada equally either. Still plenty more details to be filled in.
And what of the golden tickets? For Canadians eager to get their hands on one, there’ll be a lot of clicking and hoping. FIFA runs ticket lotteries at different points in the buildup and things are likely to be pricey with some tickets for Qatar jumping by 46 per cent on the prices from Russia 2018. The cheapest group stage tickets for this November are $69 (US).
The bad news? They’re likely to be thin on the ground — at that or any price. The good news? There’s still four years to find them. Time for everyone to get busy.
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