The Canadian Press
TORONTO–While much of the sports world was going into lockdown due to COVID-19, FIFA was in Toronto on Thursday planning for the future.
A FIFA delegation met with Canada Soccer and representatives from Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto -the three Canadian candidate host cities for the 2026 World Cup to be staged in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.
“We see this really as the kickoff of the journey with regards to this 2026 pathway that we have ahead of us,” Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief tournaments and events officer, told his audience of some three dozen at a downtown hotel. “Six years might seem a long time but it goes quickly.”
The FIFA delegation met with representatives from the three Mexican candidate cities earlier in the week. The U.S. portion of the trip was postponed due to COVID 19-related travel restrictions that looked to keep some candidate cities from attending.
FIFA is looking to choose “up to 16” candidate cities from the list of 23 submitted by the North American joint bid. Smith said a final decision would be made by the FIFA Council meeting in March 2021.
The workshops will be followed by venue visits in the three countries, originally for later this year. Smith said that might have to be reviewed with U.S. workshop being put back.
In addition to the three candidate cities in each of Canada and Mexico, there are 17 in the U.S.
The 2026 tournament has been expanded to 48 teams, up from 32, with 80 games in total. The plan is for Canada and Mexico to host 10 games each with the U.S. hosting 60, including all games from the quarterfinals on.
The three Canadian venues under consideration are Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, Toronto’s BMO Field and Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
The U.S. candidate cities are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
The Mexico cities are Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey.
Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association, said staging a tournament is “like a jigsaw puzzle where everybody’s a piece of it.”
“We’re here today to learn a little more as far as the next steps and how that’s going to be,” he added.
Smith told his audience that a being a World Cup host city “goes way beyond a location where simply there happens to be a stadium where matches are played.”
“Host cities are now integral partners in the successful delivery of a tournament,” he added. “And as a city you will get out what you put in. It’s as simple as that.”
The soccer showcase offers enormous exposure for Canada and the candidates cities on and off the football field, he said.
“You’ve got thousands of broadcasters who are sucking up content throughout the cities on long match days, before matches, after matches, and this content is all showcasing the city.”
He said the 2018 tournament in Russia had a total attendance of more than three million with in excess of one million international visitors. The tournament spurs domestic and international travel, as well as pumping up attendance at domestic soccer matches after the event, he said.
The 2026 North American organizers anticipate 5.8 million tickets sold and full stadiums for every match.
“The World Cup is a springboard,” Smith said. “It’s a springboard to developing facilities, it’s a springboard to turn football stadiums into comfortable entertainment infrastructures where football fans but also partners, kids, families go on a weekly basis.”
In a graphic showing the possible makeup of the expanded field by confederation, CONCACAF had six teams represented -up from the current three plus an international playoff. Traditionally World Cup hosts get automatic berths.
Canada already has a good record as tournament host, having staged FIFA youth competitions all the way up to the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Thursday’s session was closed to media after the opening remarks.