Canada as 2026 World Cup co-host: What you need to know

Sportsnet's Craig Forrest and James Sharman talk about the joint bid between Canada, the US, and Mexico for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and although it would be a prestigious honour, its very much the USA's World Cup.

Canadian, U.S. and Mexican soccer officials held a news conference on Monday afternoon in New York where they announced a joint bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Here’s what you need to know about Canada’s attempt to co-host the biggest sporting event in the world…

Who are Canada/Mexico/the United States up against?

As of right now, no other nations have formally announced their ambitions to hosts the tournament, although Colombia is reported to be interested in tabling a bid.

FIFA has already stated that countries from Europe and Asia will not be allowed to bid for the 2026 tournament, as Russia is hosting the 2018 World Cup, and Qatar will host in 2022.

That means that aside from CONCACAF (the North American region), only bids from South America, Africa and Oceania will be considered. However, FIFA has said that European and Asian nations will be able to bid to host the 2026 tournament if the eligible candidates are unable to fulfil the necessary criteria.

If the joint bid is successful, where would they play games in Canada?

It’s unclear at this point. What we do know is that the U.S. will host 60 matches, including every game from the quarterfinals through to the final. Canada and Mexico will have 10 games apiece.

In terms of games in Canada, it’s likely that FIFA would stipulate that all matches would have to be played on natural grass, after the 2015 Women’s World Cup held on Canadian soil was played entirely on artificial surfaces. Right now, there’s only one natural-grass stadium in Canada equipped to host a group-stage game at a World Cup: BMO Field in Toronto.

Games could be played at other venues, such as BC Place in Vancouver and Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, but they’d likely have to put temporary grass down over their artificial surfaces.

Has North America ever previously hosted the World Cup?

Yes, but it’s been a while.

Mexico hosted in 1970 and 1986 (when Canada made its only World Cup appearance), and the U.S. staged the competition in 1994.

By the time 2026 rolls around, it will have been 32 years (and seven tournaments) since the World Cup was held in North America. In that time there have been three tournaments in Europe, two in Asia, and one each in Africa and South America.

That is, perhaps, CONCACAF’s ace in the hole — the argument that it’s their turn to host.

Also working in CONCACAF’s favour is the fact that this is a joint bid. In January, FIFA voted to expand the World Cup from s 32-nation tournament to a 48-team field, starting in 2026. That means more teams, more matches, more stadiums, more infrastructure, more everything. Hosting a competition of that size would be a massive undertaking for one country, and might be better served by three host nations.

And then there’s the fact that Victor Montagliani, the current CONCACAF president and member of the FIFA Council, is Canadian. Montagliani is one of the driving forces behind this joint bid, and he’s a big-time mover and shaker within world soccer’s inner circle. There are no doubts as to where his allegiance lies.

So, the Canada/Mexico/U.S. bid is a lock, then?

No. There are many obstacles to overcome.

Only once has there been a co-hosted World Cup, in 2002 in South Korea and Japan. That tournament was dogged by logistical and politic issues between Japan and South Korea, so you can just imagine the complications that could arise between three nations.

A three-nation World Cup also means heightened security issues and three times as many potential targets for terrorist attacks. Plus, the recent travel bans that U.S. president Donald Trump has tried to enact could also work against the CONCACAF joint bid — how will fans, players and officials travel freely between all three countries if they’re potentially not allowed to enter the United States?

Even though the CONCACAF joint bid is the frontrunner, history shows that anything can happen. England appeared to be the favourite for the 2018 World Cup, but was beaten out by Russia. Likewise, the U.S. was trumped by Qatar to host the 2022 tournament. Both decisions were major surprises.

Does Canada have any experience staging major soccer tournaments?

Indeed, it does.

Canada hosted the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which was deemed a success both on and off the field. It has also hosted the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup, and 2007 U-20 Men’s World Cup.

Would Canada automatically qualify for the 2026 World Cup if this bid was successful?

That’s the big question.

Host nations have always been given an automatic berth at the World Cup. But FIFA hasn’t yet ruled on that for this joint bid, which means Canada might still have to go through the CONCACAF qualifying process in order to play at the 2026 World Cup.

Montagliani said on Monday that the group will push for all three host countries to receive automatic World Cup qualification.

When will FIFA decide on who gets to host the 2026 World Cup?

The FIFA Council has agreed upon a four-phase process for bidding for the 2026 tournament, and is expected to confirm the bid rules at its congress in Bahrain next month.

A final decision on the successful bid will likely be made in May 2020.

Sportsnet's Soccer Central podcast (featuring James Sharman, Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop, and John Molinaro) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport's biggest issues.

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