Edmonton mayor optimistic on World Cup hosting chances amid Vancouver, Toronto competition

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi remains optimistic about the city’s chances of hosting 2026 FIFA World Cup matches.

Sohi told reporters the event could “shake up this pessimism coming out of COVID” and put the city on the world stage.

“This has so much potential beyond the dollars and cents that are necessary to host it.”

Sohi brushed off concerns that financial support from the province announced on Monday came with too many strings attached, namely hosting a minimum of five games, with at least two of the five being in the knockout stages of the event.

“We will continue to work with FIFA to understand and really advocate for us to host a number of games that are necessary for us to be successful,” Sohi said.

Canada and Mexico are slated to host 10 of the 80 games each, while the remaining 60 games will be held in the U.S.

FIFA is expected to choose up to 16 cities in Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief competitions and events officer, was generally positive about the city and venues when he visited last November, but cited Commonwealth Stadium’s artificial turf as a potential issue.

“Change it,” he said in November of the artificial turf pitch. “We play the World Cup obviously on natural grass.”

Sohi acknowledged the turf would have to be replaced as part of the upgrades to host World Cup games that would also include revamped locker rooms.

VANCOUVER ‘A REAL POSSIBILITY’

After initially dropping out, Vancouver’s bid was revived by B.C. Premier John Horgan, citing an effort to boost the province’s tourism industry.

That means three Canadian cities are competing for what could turn out to be two hosting spots.

BC Place was not part of the initial FIFA inspections that happened in late 2021.The venue is largely unchanged from when it hosted the Women’s World Cup final in 2015, though all games then were played on artificial turf.

“This is a real possibility,” said Stewart earlier this month. “You will see, if everything goes right, Vancouver is on the list of host cities.”

Funding from the city could be another obstacle, with Mayor Kennedy Stewart earmarking $5 million, compared to the more than $100 million the City of Edmonton has set aside.

That figure is well below the cost of hosting five games in Toronto, pegged by a staff report there at $290 million.

WHO GETS HOW MANY GAMES?

It’s unclear when FIFA will announce the host cities.

If all three of Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto are selected, OneSoccer commentator Oliver Platt says it’s unlikely that any one of those would get more than four games.

“If Canada can get Edmonton and Vancouver back into the bid and have the three cities as initially planned and split the 10 games between the three, they’d be very relieved,” said Platt.

“There’s a chance Edmonton gets five games possibly if Canada can only find two cities.”

He said the Alberta government’s demand for second-round games to be held in Edmonton is unlikely to happen.

“Knockout games are a non-starter at this point,” he said. “That’s all been decided and allocated to the United States.”

He says Edmonton’s chances are helped by the starring role of hometown hero Alphonso Davies.

“Davies is undoubtedly the face of the team and the face of the bid.”

The City of Edmonton launched a survey in August of 2020 to measure how Edmontonians felt about hosting part of the tournament.

Survey results showed 77 per cent of people in the Edmonton region supported a bid, the city said, up from 74 per cent in 2018.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Matthew Black, Carlyle Fiset, Diego Romero

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