The provincial government is considering pulling support for Vancouver as a potential host for games in the 2026 men’s FIFA World Cup.
BC Place Stadium is one of the potential locations to host soccer games if the unified North America bid wins the right to host.
“We have been grappling with people who want us to sign a blank cheque, a conditional agreement that could be changed by FIFA and not by us,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan. “I’d love to see soccer games at BC Place. Let’s bring soccer to Vancouver in 2026 but let’s also ensure cost to taxpayers is not out of control.”
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On Tuesday, the federal government committed $5 million to support Canada’s part of the unified bid. Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are up against Morocco to host the men’s soccer showcase.
The B.C. government has not been told about a firm deadline for a decision, but bid books go to FIFA at the end of the week with a decision to be made at the FIFA congress on June 13. B.C. is especially concerned about a ‘step in’ clause that would allow soccer’s regulating body to make changes to the bid even if it is approved.
The costs to host games are significant. The province is in charge of BC Place through PAVCO and would be responsible for putting in a natural grass field, changes to parking, security and the cost of using the facility. Part of the ongoing negotiations is that B.C. has not come to a point where it is happy with a stadium agreement.
Horgan says the province submitted a bid last week, that was rejected by the unified bid committee.
“We sent a draft submission to the proponents last week. It didn’t meet their expectations, but I have a higher obligation than just being a soccer fan, I have a higher obligation than just wanting to see world-class soccer in Vancouver,” said Horgan. “I have to make sure taxpayers aren’t on the hook for unknown costs at the whim of FIFA.”
Vancouver, as a potential host city, could see a maximum of five games at BC Place. The City of Vancouver has calculated the economic benefits of those games could range from $90 million to $480 million.
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B.C. Liberal MLA Jas Johal says he is concerned the province is backing away from too good an opportunity.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for exposure, not just for British Columbia, but for dollars for our tour operators and hotels,” said Johal.
“It’s concerning because there have been many months, even years put into this.”
The unified bid plan calls for 10 matches in each of Canada and Mexico. Another 60 games would be held in the U.S. in the new-expanded 48-team tournament format.
The tournament would have 80 games in total.
B.C. Sport and Tourism Minister Lisa Beare says her staff is in constant contact with the bid committee. It is unclear what impact B.C.’s decision would have on Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto, who are all expected to put themselves forward as potential host cities.
“This is, of course, something fans will be looking forward to, but we have to be looking at all the opportunities surrounding it and all the risks surrounding it,” Beare added.
The Vancouver mayor’s office released a statement on the issue, saying city council has been a “strong supporter” of the bid and would “love” to host the event.
“We’ve done our part to sign on to the bid and are hopeful the provincial and federal governments can find an arrangement to support the bid going forward,” the statement added.
If the government did pass up the bid, it was the wrong move said local ticket broker Kingsley Baily. He said all the government has to do is look back at the 2015 women’s world cup when Vancouver hosted several games.
“I did not have enough tickets, I was scrambling to find tickets,” said Baily. “That women’s world cup was absolutely huge, I never saw it coming. We had a lot of American clients who did buy tickets from us and they said they were in line for four hours to get through.”
Bailey said it doesn’t matter what teams end up playing in different cities, he says to fans, it’s all about watching international calibre players.
—With files from Grace Ke and Emily Lazatin