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Vancouver will host FIFA World Cup matches in 2026, officials announce

Vancouver will become a World Cup city in just a few years' time, officials announced Thursday.

FIFA will bring the men's soccer tournament to Vancouver in 2026. It'll be the first time ever that the World Cup is held across three countries: Canada, Mexico and the United States.

The latter countries have hosted before, but this is the first time the men's tournament will be played in Canada.

It's also the largest World Cup to date, featuring 48 teams in 80 matches.

The other western host cities announced by FIFA from New York Thursday afternoon are Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Guadalajara.

Toronto was the only other Canadian city chosen, though Edmonton had also submitted a bid.

In the central region, the following cities were selected: Kansas City, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Monterrey and Mexico City.

In the east, in addition to Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and New York-New Jersey will host.

Each city announced had a brief endorsement from a celebrity, and in Vancouver, that soccer fan was Michael Bublé.

In a recorded message, the Burnaby-born crooner said the city is "thrilled" to welcome the World Cup.

"It is a massive opportunity and I'm very sure that we're going to impress soccer fans and soccer players from all over this beautiful planet. Can't wait to see you," he said.

"Oh, one more thing. Go Canada!"

Actor Drew Carey spoke on behalf of Seattle, NBA star Magic Johnson for L.A., hip hop band The Roots for Philadelphia, actress and singer Gloria Estefan for Miami and comedian Jon Stewart for New York.

Other cities put up their own local heroes, many of whom are existing or retired professional athletes. Toronto's mayor spoke on behalf of Canada's biggest city.

The Vancouver games will be in BC Place, a downtown stadium that hosted several FIFA Women's World Cup matches back in 2015.

"I've not stopped smiling since it's been announced,” said Carl Valentine, a member of Canada’s 1986 men’s World Cup team.

"Goosebumps, something special to host the game I love here in my own country,” said current national team member, Lucas Cavallini.

The 29-year-old says his main focus right now is obviously this year’s World Cup in Qatar, but says it’s hard not to get excited about the potential of 2026.

“I want to make sure I’m available for that as well,” Cavallini said.

A schedule for the games has not yet been confirmed, but the provincial government said it believes Canada will host about 10 of the 80 games.

Sixty will be played in the U.S., including everything from the quarterfinals forward, and the remaining 10 will be in Mexico.

Earlier in the process, the city pledged to contribute up to $5 million, a significantly higher commitment than the $1.5 million it put forward for the women's tournament. 

Mayor Kennedy Stewart said matches held in Vancouver would be a way to boost the city's tourism sector, which took a hit when travel was brought to a halt to limit the spread of COVID-19.

In a statement released after the announcement was made, the province called the games will be a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to support tourism-related businesses and to "put the global spotlight on British Columbia and inspire the next generation of players."

A brief post on social media from the City of Vancouver used the same language.

Officials in B.C. estimated that hosting the World Cup will bring in more than $1 billion in new revenue for the tourism sector as people travel to the province to watch the matches and over the years that follow. 

Vancouver was one of three Canadian cities in the running, joining Toronto and Edmonton as potential hosts.

Twenty-two cities in total submitted bids to host the tournament.

Speaking ahead of the announcement, TSN soccer commentator Blake Price said he thought Vancouver and Toronto had a good chance, but he wasn't sure about Edmonton.

"Ultimately if you're only playing two matches, you want to make sure the most amount of Canadians can see,” said Price in an interview with CTV Morning Live.

“I think that's in BC Place. In terms of Edmonton, I’ll leave room for surprises but sources indicate it's just going to be the two Canadian cities and just add an American city into the mix."

Vancouver initially bid to be a host city back in 2017, but withdrew when Premier John Horgan raised concerns about how much it would cost.

But he later had a change of heart, with his government calling it a great opportunity, in part due to its ability to bail out the tourism sector after the pandemic.

Price said it became a bit of a "pet project" for Vancouverite and FIFA vice-president Victor Montagliani.

“I think (he) wanted to make sure that Vancouver and B.C. did not miss out on this opportunity, knowing what it would bring. So I think both sides just got a little hungrier to make a deal happen,” said Price.

Now that Vancouver has been selected, preparations will have to begin.

One change needed is that, BC Place has artificial turf, which will need to be changed to natural grass to meet FIFA standards.

Vancouver would also need to provide a number of training fields and a clubhouse.

Amateur organizations believe those facilities will benefit future generations of local players.

“I think everybody in the soccer community will benefit from, is just that sort of spin off, and the extras that come with the event, and so we'll have a lot of legacy facilities and a lot of legacy infrastructure that we probably wouldn't have had otherwise,” said Peter Schaad with BC Soccer.

Travel and accommodations are some of the biggest barriers for soccer fans hoping to attend the World Cup. Schaad expects many British Columbians will want to take advantage of a game in their own backyard.

“The ability to actually go to a World Cup game is really special. It's a bucket list item,” said Schaad.

He hopes young players across the province will be inspired.

“It's the biggest tournament in the world, the best players in the world are going to play here," Schaad said. "I think for young players especially, that will be a very meaningful time."

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Regan Hasegawa

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