In 2018, Canada, alongside Mexico and the United States, were awarded hosting rights for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and in June 2022, we got confirmation that two Canadian cities – Toronto and Vancouver would be Canada’s host cities.
While it’s fantastic that the World Cup is coming to Canada, naturally, there is a feeling of disappointment that there only are two cities, especially when Mexico has three, and the U.S.A. has 11. Like everyone else, I would’ve loved to see more Canadian cities host World Cup games in 2026, especially given that Canada successfully hosted the Women’s version of the tournament back in 2015. But there are a lot of factors to consider as to why cities like Calgary, Ottawa, and Montreal were unable to host World Cup games in their respective stadiums.
The Cities and Stadiums Themselves
Calgary – McMahon Stadium
With a major airport, scenic mountains, and lots of experience in hosting big events such as the Calgary Stampede and 1988 Winter Olympics, Calgary, on paper, seems like it would’ve been a great candidate city for the World Cup.
Unfortunately for Calgary, the city is incredibly handicapped by its biggest stadium, McMahon Stadium. The 35,400-capacity stadium, which has been temporarily expanded in the past to over 45,000, was built in 1960 and is very much showing its age. Hosting world cup games at that stadium is, quite frankly, a bit laughable. Calgary would have to have built a new stadium, and as we’ve seen with the Calgary Flames arena saga, the city isn’t exactly willing to throw money at sports stadiums. This means there was never a bid from Calgary.
Montreal – Olympic Stadium
In July 2021, Montreal formally withdrew its bid to host World Cup games at Olympic Stadium, at the time it felt inevitable, as the Quebec provincial government had announced that they wouldn’t be putting any financial backing into the city’s bid, and with Olympic Stadium in dire need of renovation, it would’ve been a very costly venture overall.
It’s a shame that Montreal had to withdraw. The city is one of the most culturally unique in all of North America, and would’ve had no problem impressing a global audience. Although impressing a global audience with Olympic Stadium is another story.
Ottawa – TD Place Stadium, Regina – Mosaic Stadium, and Winnipeg – IG Field
All three cities have three of the newest/recently renovated stadiums in Canada and in the case of Ottawa, they have ambitions of renovating TD Place even further. IG Field and Mosaic Stadium will both be less than thirteen tears old come the World Cup, and both have very modern designs. The big problem with these three cities is capacity and competition.
All three of the stadiums are below the capacity threshold of 45,000 and none of them really have room for further expansion or the long-term viability of expanding those stadiums to such a number. Unfortunately for these cities, compared to cities like Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary – especially in the case of Winnipeg and Regina, they aren’t as desirable destinations as other bigger cities in Canada. Ottawa also has the issue of being relatively close to Toronto (by North American standards), which probably didn’t help its case if it had to compete with what was probably the most obvious city in Canada that was gonna host world cup games.
Edmonton – Commonwealth
Perhaps the most controversial omission, Edmonton had a bid for the 2026 World Cup up until the decision day, but was unfortunately pipped to the post. Commonwealth Stadium is certainly big enough and has been home to many iconic moments in Canadian soccer such as the ‘Iceteca’ double header last November and the 1-1 draw against Brazil in 1994. But just like Montreal, it came down to provincial backing.
The Alberta government committed to financial backing for the bid, putting on the stipulation that FIFA award Edmonton five games including at least two knockout games. Now FIFA as an organization are many, many terrible things that I probably shouldn’t get into, but one thing I will say right now is that they’re an organization that doesn’t take kindly to demands. When Vancouver announced their intention to host games, Edmonton lost its leverage of being one of just two Canadian bids, and it seemed almost inevitable that they would lose out to Vancouver and an eleventh American city.
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Looking at the Mexican and American Stadiums
Another problem that the Canadian cities had was that their co-hosts, Mexico and the United States, have stadiums that Canada can’t compete with. The three Mexican stadiums are all either architecturally amazing or in the case of the Azteca, way too iconic and historical to not be part of the 2026 World Cup.
As for the States, all their stadiums have massive capacities, and a lot of them are not only new but cost well over a billion USD. It’s harsh to say, but objectively, most of the Canadian stadiums simply can’t compete with the Mexicans and Americans presented. So when it came to emitting either a third Canadian stadium or an eleventh American stadium, FIFA made the choice that many people would’ve seen as the best choice for the tournament.
As alluded to earlier, hosting a world cup isn’t cheap, and FIFA doesn’t help. In 2018, Russia spent close to $12 billion USD on hosting the 2018 World Cup, and 70 percent of the funding came from public money. While counties do make money from hosting world cups, FIFA notoriously takes a lot of money off the top. In 2018, FIFA raked in $6 billion, up 25 from Brazil in 2014. In Brazil, we saw protestors take to the street to protest what was seen as public money being thrown away which could’ve been spent on more meaningful services.
After spending a then World Cup record $11.6, equivalent to just over 60 percent of Brazil’s entire education budget, all Brazil had to show for it was losing in the semi-final to Germany 7-1 and a multitude of white elephant stadiums that serve as a reminder of money that could’ve been spent better. All while FIFA walked away from Brazil with $4 Billion.
Many people in Canada and politicians want to avoid the same financial pitfalls that previous countries have endured, and the best way for Canada as co-hosts to generate income is to have as many games as possible. Unfortunately, Canada looks to have a quota of ten games and with the money that would have to be spent on infrastructure, stadium renovations and the tax exemptions that FIFA demands, it just wasn’t justifiable for what may be just a handful of games at most.
I want Canada to host the World Cup as much as everybody, and while I would’ve loved a tournament akin to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, that was never going to be feasible in 2026. We should be proud though. The sporting tournament that makes the world stop what it’s doing for a month will be in Toronto and Vancouver.
Who knows, maybe this tournament will wet the appetite for more, and Canada bids to host the CONCACAF Gold Cup, U20 World Cup, or maybe even another Women’s World Cup? All I know for sure is, even though I’m disappointed we couldn’t have more cities, I’m still very much looking forward to 2026!
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