A joint North American bid won the right to host the 2026 World Cup in a vote of FIFA’s member delegations on Wednesday, meaning the massive soccer tournament will make its way to Canada for the first time.
Canada has a mixed history of hosting major international sports competitions, from the financially disastrous 1976 Summer Games to the successful 2010 Winter Olympics and 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Here’s a look at the legacy some major events have left on Canadian hosts.
2015 Women’s World Cup
The tournament prompted some infrastructure improvements — B.C. Place Stadium got new artificial turf and Montreal’s Olympic Stadium got new padding under its existing turf.
Several training sites also got an upgrade. But the tournament was able to take advantage of new CFL stadiums in Ottawa and Winnipeg.
A bigger legacy came off the field where the tournament’s total attendance of 1,353,506 — bear in mind FIFA counted attendance for doubleheaders as two matches even though one ticket gained access to both — set a record for a FIFA competition other than the men’s World Cup.
FIFA called the championship game in Vancouver between the U.S. and Japan the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history, for both men’s and women’s events. Canadian Soccer Association general secretary Peter Montopoli said the success of the Women’s World Cup was raised at almost every member association meeting they had in advance of the 2026 men’s World Cup hosting vote.
2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.
The 2010 Games announced Canada’s arrival as a Winter Olympic power. Canada won 14 gold medals in Vancouver and Whistler — the most by a Winter Olympic host and tied for the most overall — and 26 medals overall. Buoyed by this success, Canada won 10 gold medals in Sochi, just one behind co-leaders Russia and Norway, and 11 gold medals and a nation-best 29 overall medals in Pyeongchang.
As far as infrastructure, Vancouver gained athletic facilities from a games that cost $7.7 billion, and the Canada Line rapid transit connecting the airport, downtown waterfront and Richmond was transformational.
The widening of the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler made the commute faster and safer. The Richmond Olympic Oval is a hub for recreational and high-performance athletes and houses the Canadian women’s volleyball team. The Hillcrest Centre provides curling and hockey ice and an aquatic facility, while Whistler’s sliding track is an annual World Cup stop.
2001 World Track and Field Championships
Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium hosted the eighth world track and field championships, and the first in North America. The events were televised to a global audience of four billion people.
But the event was remembered by the empty seats in the cavernous stadium, and the scathing attacks on Edmonton in British newspapers. And the Canadian team didn’t win a medal over the event’s 10 days.
Still, more than 400,000 tickets were sold, more per session than the attendance for the three previous world championships in Europe, and organizers said the $125 million event was on budget.
Canada didn’t host a major international track and field event at the senior level until the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
1994 FIBA World Basketball Championship
Toronto’s SkyDome and Maple Leaf Gardens, as well as Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, hosted the world basketball championships that were originally awarded to Belgrade, Yugoslavia. But when the United Nations imposed a trade embargo on the Balkan country, Toronto stepped up as a replacement option in 1992.
The ’94 world championships marked the first time FIBA allowed NBA players to participate. The result was the United States Dream Team 2 demolished Russia 137-91 for gold. Shaquille O’Neal was named the MVP. Canada finished seventh.
1988 Calgary Winter Olympics
Calgary was severely lacking sports venues, so the build for the first Winter Games in Canada —with its price tag of $829 million — was significant.
The Saddledome, Olympic Oval, Canada Olympic Park, Canmore Nordic Centre, Nakiska Ski Resort and Max Bell Arena sprouted from the ground in the early 1980s, although the arrival of the NHL’s Flames also made the Saddledome a necessity.
A CTrain line from downtown to the city’s northwest was completed in 1987. A $220-million winter sport institute was constructed at Canada Olympic Park through the ’88 legacy foundation. The majority of winter high-performance athletes in Canada either train in Calgary or have come to the city for training camps and competition. Calgary regularly hosts World Cups and world championships.
While the Canadian Olympic team failed to win a gold in Calgary and earned just five medals overall, the Games were arguably the seed for Canada’s eventual ascent into a Winter Games contender.
Canada increased its overall medal count at every Winter Games between 1988 and 2018, with the exception of a small dip from 26 in Vancouver to 25 at the 2014 Sochi Games.
1976 Montreal Summer Olympics
Canada’s first Olympics was considered a financial white elephant, taking three decades to pay off. The final price tag for Olympic Stadium, labelled “The Big Owe,” and other Olympic Park structures was $1.47 billion. The stadium housed Major League Baseball’s Montreal Expos before they left in 2004, and the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes before they departed in 1999.
There are ’76 legacies, however, that contribute to the local and national sporting landscape. The park’s aquatic centre is a world-class venue for swimming, diving and synchronized swimming and home to the national synchro team. Claude Robillard Sports Complex is a multi-purpose facility that produced Olympic diving medallists Alex Despatie and Sylvie Bernier.
The equestrian centre in Bromont hosts international events. The velodrome was turned into an indoor nature exhibit.
Sports writers Donna Spencer, Neil Davidson and Lori Ewing contributed to this report.