TORONTO — A FIFA delegation wrapped up its visits to candidate cities for the 2026 World Cup with a stop in Toronto on Monday, having already seen Canadian soccer at its snowy best in Edmonton.
"I commented at the time that it was very chilly but a very warm atmosphere," Colin Smith, FIFA's chief tournaments and events officer, said of Edmonton where his group witnessed the Canadian men defeat CONCACAF powerhouse Mexico 2-1 last Tuesday before an announced crowd of 44,212 at Commonwealth Stadium.
"To have the passion of the crowd in these conditions was simply fantastic. And that shows the support that there is for soccer, football as I call it, in Canada."
There were also kind words for Toronto — the other Canadian candidate city — at a lunchtime news conference high atop the Hotel X, just a stone's thrown away from BMO Field.
Victor Montagliani, a Vancouver native who doubles as CONCACAF president and FIFA vice-president, called the Toronto pitch — which included a presentation by MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum — "very thorough and excellent."
"I thought their presentation exemplified not only the nuts and bolts of what's required … but also showed in terms of what I call the software, not just the hardware — the diversity of the city, what football has meant to the city historically. What football is in this city," said Montagliani.
"Football has been here for a long time. And obviously in terms of being at the sharp end of the game, it's gone to another level over the last, I'd say, 10 years at least," he added.
Added Toronto Mayor John Tory: "We are all in to bring the FIFA World Cup to Toronto in 2026."
The FIFA delegation has now visited 22 cities encompassing 23 venues with the two Canadian cities plus Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington, D.C. in the U.S., and Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey in Mexico.
The 2026 tournament has been expanded to 48 teams, up from 32, with 80 games in total. The initial plan from the bid committee called for Canada and Mexico to host 10 games each with the U.S. hosting 60, including all games from the quarterfinals on.
While the number of host cities was initially pegged at 16, Smith said the final number has not been defined.
"We'll wrap up these visits and then we'll decide what's the most appropriate number that we need to host the tournament," he said.
The host city selection process is expected to be finalized in April.
Montreal was also a Canadian candidate city but withdrew in July. That followed a decision by the provincial government to withdraw its support, citing cost overruns that would have been difficult to justify to taxpayers.
B.C. Premier John Horgan subsequently said his province was prepared to "entertain'' the possibility of hosting games in Vancouver. Horgan said Montreal's decision to step away creates "a real opportunity for Vancouver."
Asked about Vancouver's status, Montagliani was noncommittal.
"I know that the premier of British Columbia had expressed some interest and that's great," he said. "But right now we're dealing with the players we have, not the players that are not on the team."
Smith reiterated that FIFA was working with the original cities that remain on board. "That's absolutely the focus," he said.
Vancouver's B.C. Place Stadium was a major part of the 2015 Women's World Cup, hosting nine matches including the final. But the FIFA timeline seems not to favour a late bid.
The candidate city site visits cover venue management, infrastructure and sustainability as well as commercial, legal and legacy matters. They also include inspections of stadiums, training facilities and potential FIFA fan festival venues.
The FIFA delegation visited BMO Field after Monday's news conference. If chosen, the lakefront stadium would be fitted with temporary seating to bring it up to the FIFA minimum capacity of 45,000.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press