VANCOUVER – When World Cup soccer comes to North America, Vancouver will be on the sidelines, creating mixed feelings for leaders in sports, business and politics.
Soccer’s international governing body has approved Canada, Mexico and the U.S. as joint hosts of the 2026 tournament, and Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton are all candidates for where games could be played.
Vancouver was also on the initial list, but the British Columbia government withdrew its support in March after it couldn’t come to an agreement with FIFA on how much hosting would cost.
B.C. Premier John Horgan said Wednesday that having the tournament in North America will be great, but he doesn’t regret his government’s decision.
“We weren’t prepared to write a blank cheque, we’re still not prepared to write a blank cheque for a soccer tournament that would not guarantee a specific number of games, would not guarantee the duration of the closing of B.C. Place and would not give us a final dollar figure,” he said.
Liberal MLA Michelle Stilwell thinks the governing New Democrats were too quick to pull the plug.
“Now B.C. is getting left out,” she said. “I think it was an opportunity for us to promote not only our love for the sport. It was, more importantly, an opportunity to promote our city and our province.”
Vancouver has played host to international sporting events before, including the 2010 Olympics and the women’s World Cup in 2015.
Those events need to be viewed as investments in the future, said Charles Gauthier, CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.
“Soccer is such a popular sport around the world that it would have brought people in from literally all parts of the globe,” he said.
A member of the only Canadian team to ever play in a men’s World Cup said he is excited to see the tournament played on home soil, whether it is in his city or not.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic. The opportunity to be a part of a World Cup in Canada is not something that I ever thought I’d be around for,” said Bob Lenarduzzi, president of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Back in 1986, Lenarduzzi played on the Canadian team that made it to soccer’s biggest stage. He even got close to scoring a goal.
“I had it at my feet and I got a little over excited and dragged my foot along the grass before I hit the ball,” he said. “I didn’t make good contact and the keeper made an easy save. But I could’ve been the guy that scored a goal for Canada.”
It is extremely disappointing that Vancouver won’t host any of the games, Lenarduzzi said, but having the World Cup in Canada is still sure to have an impact.
“There’s more than likely kids that are 10, 11, 12 years old that can realistically look ahead and say ‘I want to be part of that 2026 team.’ And I know as a youngster, you’re fuelled by dreams.”
One Whitecaps player hopes his dreams will come true when the World Cup comes to North America.
Midfielder Alphonso Davies made a passionate speech to the FIFA World Congress ahead of Wednesday’s vote, describing how he was born in a refugee camp in Ghana before his family immigrated to Canada.
“My dream is to someday compete in the World Cup. Maybe even in my hometown of Edmonton,” said the 17-year-old, who’s already made Canada’s men’s team.
“I’ve played matches in Mexico, Canada and the United States. The people of North America have always welcomed me. If given the opportunity, I know they’ll welcome you.”
Lenarduzzi said he had goosebumps watching Davies speak.
“I think his speech transcended soccer,” the Whitecaps president said.
“He did it with such poise and enthusiasm and was wide-eyed by the end of it. And I was so proud of him and just delighted for his family that they could live the Canadian dream.”
— Follow @gkarstenssmith on Twitter.