Toronto shows off its look and hopes for staging the 2026 FIFA World Cup
TORONTO — Standing in the middle of BMO Field, with 2026 World Cup graphics adorning the stadium, Jonathan Osorio could only imagine what having the men's soccer showcase in his backyard might be like.
"It's going to be something amazing," said the Toronto FC midfielder, who has won 62 caps for Canada and was part of John Herdman's team at last year's World Cup in Qatar. "Something that maybe the city has never seen. And this city has seen a lot."
Toronto and Canada teammate Mark-Anthony Kaye echoed Osorio's enthusiasm.
"Before when we used to think of Canada and World Cups, they were always dreams," said Kaye, who has won 40 caps for Canada and was also in Qatar. "After this last one, being able to go there and make history and put our feet on the soil of the biggest tournament in the world, now to have it on our home soil is amazing.
"It's just going to be a reality. We don't need to dream about it any more. It's coming. Little kids are going to be able to experience a World Cup in their backyard."
Osorio pointed to the parade that filled the streets after the Toronto Raptors won the NBA championship in 2019.
"This is football," he said. "And it could maybe overtake that, maybe not. We'll see. But I know it will be to that magnitude of support."
One day after FIFA president Gianni Infantino attended a gala at Los Angeles' historic Griffith Observatory for the unveiling of the logo and branding for the 2026 World Cup, Toronto held its own event to showcase its tournament branding.
Thursday's event took place against a backdrop of young soccer players darting around the pitch with former Canadian international Terry Dunfield, now coach of Toronto FC's under-17 academy team, among those directing the on-field traffic.
For Sharon Bollenbach, appointed in February as executive director of the FIFA World Cup 2026 Toronto, Thursday was "the first milestone of many to come" in co-hosting the expanded 48-team World Cup with Mexico and the U.S.
Bollenbach says the goal is to put on the best tournament possible, but also to elevate the sport of soccer in Canada and inspire a new generation.
"And then we want to engage (the) community," she said. "One of the great things about Toronto as a host for the World Cup is that we are a world in a city. Any team that will come here will almost be playing a home match."
But like the Olympics, the World Cup also serves as one huge advertisement for the city and country. Every game in Canada represents an opportunity to showcase the best side of the region.
"The viewership on a World Cup is out of this world … All of those eyeballs are going to be on Toronto," said Bollenbach.
And also on Vancouver, Canada's other host city. The U.S. will host games in 11 cities and Mexico in three.
The original blueprint was for Canada and Mexico to host 10 games each with the U.S. staging the remaining 60. But Canada could see more games, given FIFA's decision to revamp the format to have 104 matches in total
Bollenbach, who was just in Miami to meet with other host cities to exchange ideas and hear from the Qatar tournament organizers, said more information on Canada's games could come in the fall.
Bollenbach spent the last 16 years with Special Olympics Canada, most recently as CEO. But before that she served as GM for the Toronto leg of the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Scott Beck, president and CEO of Destination Toronto, says the World Cup is a catalyst.
"We're now part of a community that's hosting the world's biggest event. And that's powerful," said Beck, a former president and CEO of Utah's Visit Salt Lake. "It says a lot about who you are as a community. And I know firsthand, personally, the legacy this creates for a community.
"I was in Salt Lake for 16 years when we were the host for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and I saw personally what it did for the youth of our community to have access to what they're passionate about.
"And the legacy from that is still going on to this day and what is has done to winter sports in the state of Utah. That's going to happen here."
One beneficiary could be the Canadian women's pro league that former Canadian international Diana Matheson is spearheading. She plans to have the eight-team league kick off in 2025 to benefit from that World Cup spotlight, knowing the tournament will be followed by the 2027 Women's World Cup and the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press