B.C. defends decision to sideline Vancouver in 2026 World Cup
Published Wednesday, June 13, 2018 7:46AM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 13, 2018 6:47PM PDT
British Columbia's government is standing by a decision that will leave the province on the sidelines when the World Cup comes to Canada in 2026.
The FIFA congress announced Wednesday it had selected Canada, the United States and Mexico to host the tournament.
Vancouver had an opportunity to join Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton as a potential host, but the North American bid committee was forced to move forward without the West Coast city in March after failing to reach a deal over the anticipated cost of the tournament.
At the time, the province said it wasn't willing to "write a blank cheque to FIFA."
Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Lisa Beare reiterated that point Wednesday, saying the government's concerns "haven't changed."
"We had some very large concerns with the contract," she told reporters. "FIFA's ability to unilaterally change the contract at any point at an unknown cost is not acceptable to the people of British Columbia that we need to protect."
Premier John Horgan said he understands soccer fans in the province are disappointed, but echoed those concerns in Grand Forks, B.C. Wednesday, saying "FIFA would not tell us what the final cost would be."
The province, which owns BC Place, said FIFA's financial conditions and uncertain security costs were deal-breakers.
"The FIFA bid agreement contained clauses that left British Columbians at an unacceptable risk for additional costs," Beare said. "We tried very hard to get assurances and raised our concerns. However, those assurances were not addressed."
At the time, the City of Vancouver said it was "extremely disappointed" it was no longer being considered for the tournament, adding that "hosting the biggest sporting event on earth would have offered significant economic benefits."
Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton are now the only Canadian cities that could host matches.
The joint bid won 67 per cent of the votes at the FIFA congress over Morocco, which has now lost five bid campaigns.
The news was met with excitement throughout the country.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante and Toronto Mayor John Tory both retweeted of a video of North American representatives reacting to the success of the united bid Wednesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also tweeted the "good news" Wednesday morning, saying "it's going to be a great tournament!"
"I mean, this is like football Christmas for anyone," said the coach of Canada's national team, John Herdman, who called the decision a game-changer that will help stop the exodus of Canadian soccer players.
"We're got a lot of players that aren't actually representing Canada and I think this people a very front-sight focus of—it's here."
Teenage Vancouver Whitecaps star Alphonso Davies said the chance to play for Canada on home turf would be a dream come true.
"Today, I'm 17 years old and I play for the (Canadian) men's national team. And I'm a proud Canadian citizen," said Davies, who was born in a refugee camp when his parents escaped civil war in Liberia.
"My dream is to someday compete in the World Cup, maybe even in my home town of Edmonton."
Had it joined the bid, Vancouver would have still had until 2021 to opt out of hosting the tournament.
Aside from the financial concerns, Beare gave no details on the whether the province had considered that as an option.
The minister said B.C. is still "happy to have those conversations" if FIFA and the bid committee are willing to provide assurances about costs.
Those in the soccer community, however, say it's extremely unlikely Vancouver could join the bid at this point.
"As far as I know, there's no chance. The decision has been made. That ship has sailed," said Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi.
"Nobody is waiting for Vancouver. You needed to put your bid in, and if you didn't, c'est la vie."
But Lenarduzzi said Vancouver's absence from the 2026 World Cup ought not to detract from what hosting the tournament will mean for the sport in Canada.
"I do feel that actually being a part of a World Cup, in spite of the fact that it's eight years away, is just a massive bonus and will just continue the popularity of our sport," he said.
"I think what this is going to do is have a lot of young soccer players thinking 'Wow. I want to be a part of that in 2026.'"
The current plan is for the U.S. to host 60 matches. Mexico and Canada will get 10 games each.
The North American bid got 17 low-risk and three medium assessments when it comes to organizing costs, government support as well as human rights and labour standards.
In its evaluation, the joint bid also got a "technical score" of 402.8 out of 500, compared to Morocco's 274.9.
Mexico has hosted the World Cup twice, in 1970 and 1986. The U.S. hosted once in 1994.
Canada failed its previous bid in 1986. That year was also the only time the Canadian men's team has qualified for the tournament.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim, St. John Alexander and The Canadian Press
Are you disappointed that Vancouver won’t be hosting a FIFA World Cup soccer game in 2026? https://t.co/5dzZynRxNt— CTV Vancouver (@CTVVancouver) June 13, 2018