Commonwealth Stadium would get real grass for World Cup year: Edmonton staff

Team Canada played to sell out crowds at Commonwealth Stadium during the 2015 Women's World Cup.
Team Canada played to sell out crowds at Commonwealth Stadium during the 2015 Women's World Cup. The Canadian Press

Commonwealth Stadium will go back to the future and will have natural grass for an entire Edmonton Eskimos CFL season in 2026, according to the long-range plan sent to Soccer Canada on Tuesday.

Edmonton has submitted its formal expression of interest to Soccer Canada to be in on the three-country North American bid to jointly host the World Cup in 2026. The bid cites attendance capacity at 56,335.

Seven bids are in: Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Regina, Toronto and Vancouver are the other Canadian cities that have made the shortlist.

Commonwealth Stadium was one of the Canadian venues in 2015 for the Women’s World Cup and the 2026 bid is proving to be one of those timing-is-everything opportunities. That’s because FIFA insisted then that perfectly good artificial turf had to be replaced.

“The timing coincidentally just works for us from when this artificial turf went in, that will likely need renewal anyway,” confirmed Roger Jevne, the branch manager for facilities with the city.

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READ MORE: Edmonton and Calgary shortlisted as host cities for 2026 FIFA World Cup if North America wins bid

“The turf we put in will be near the end of its life cycle so we’d have to take it out, put in a (natural grass) field for the duration of the event,” Jevne said.

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“It wouldn’t matter to us if it’s one game or three or four games, on how feasible that is on the impacts on the stadium. Then [we’d] take it back out and we’d then put in the new artificial turf for the Eskimos. At least that’s our plan now.”

Tuesday was the deadline for Canadian cities to show interest in being considered for the Canadian portion of the bid that would see 10 games played here, 10 others in Mexico, and the rest in the U.S. At the end of September, Soccer Canada is expected to announce who will be in the running.

READ MORE: Could Canada host the 2026 FIFA World Cup (and do we even want to)?

“We’re pretty confident,” Jevne said.

“The success of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the attendance records we set, we’re pretty confident we’ll be shortlisted as one of the Canadian cities to be in the bid.”

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City staff have more questions than answers at this point, including how many of the 10 games would be held in any given city, or how many rounds would be played at which venues throughout the three countries.

READ MORE: Attendance record set in Edmonton for FIFA Women’s World Cup opening match 

Commonwealth Stadium did under go renovations for the 2015 event, with more dressing rooms constructed. Jevne said they’ll watch to see what else is needed on site as the bid process continues.

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“The city will have to decide whether we want to pursue the bid. If there’s significant capital upgrades required, the impact on the stadium, other events, the Eskimos… So, we’ll have to look at how many games we’ll get, which games there are, and then decide. But at this point, it’s absolutely worth pursuing so we’re all in.

“It’ll be almost 10 years out, so things like the turf will be up for replacement. We’ll continue to monitor as we get closer the jumbo-tron, the sound system, the lighting. Those things are constantly in our life-cycle renewal plans.

“If we got the event, we’d try to time any of those improvements so that they’re done in advance, tested and working like new for 2026.”

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Edmonton is also confident in its ability to provide training camps for several countries’ teams to set up here with both practice facilities and hotel space.

FIFA will announce the winning bid next June. Morocco is the only other country bidding against North America’s three-country bid.