Mayor Amarjeet Sohi is feeling pretty optimistic about Edmonton’s chances at being selected to share Canadian hosting duties for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
“This is really an exciting day for the city,” he said Wednesday, one day after the government of Alberta confirmed it would support Edmonton’s bid with $110 million and government services.
“It’s good for the city, good for the province, good for the country.”
Alberta’s formal commitment comes with conditions, including confirmation of federal and municipal funding for the bid and that Edmonton is guaranteed by FIFA to host at least five games (and at least two of these games are at the round of 32 or round of 16 knockout stages).
Sohi thanked Minister of Culture Ronald Orr for working hard on Edmonton’s bid request and didn’t seem concerned Wednesday with the province’s conditions.
“We will work through those conditions as they come up, but at this time, we were seeking very high level, strong commitment from the province.
“It’s a very good first, big step.”
He said the partnership with the province means it will be “there for us from now until the conclusion of the games and working closely with our city in leading up to the FIFA decision to select the cities and beyond.”
Sohi stressed the cost will be shared one-third, one-third, one-third by the city, province and federal government.
Orr said Tuesday the federal government has offered support “in principle,” but hasn’t confirmed the details. Sohi said Wednesday the Canadian government was talking about the 2026 FIFA World Cup when he was a federal minister and has “no doubt” Ottawa will step up.
“I have been in touch with federal officials as well and we’re working with them to ensure federal government is there,” the mayor said, adding they’ve “shown strong commitment” that he expects will continue throughout the process.
In 2018, soccer’s international governing body voted in favour of a joint bid for the 2026 event by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico in June and July 2026.
The plan is for Canada and Mexico to host 10 games each with the U.S. hosting 60, including all games from the quarterfinals on.
Toronto (BMO Field) and Edmonton (Commonwealth Stadium) are the confirmed Canadian candidate host cities. Vancouver said it was prepared to entertain discussions with FIFA.
A FIFA delegation met with Canada Soccer and representatives from the Canadian cities in Toronto in March 2020. A spokesperson for the city said FIFA officials visited Edmonton in November 2021.
Toronto-based soccer writer John Molinaro thinks Alberta presenting some conditions is unique.
“FIFA is not some sort of fly-by-night organization. It is somewhat like the mafia in that you don’t make conditions and present them to FIFA; they make conditions on you.”
However, he understands the position of Edmonton and Alberta.
“They want sort of value on return, they want value for money in terms of the games that they’re going to host.
“They go back to FIFA and say: ‘Look, you want to come here? You want tax exemptions? You want us to put down a permanent grass field at the stadium? Then we need certain assurances.'”
Still, Molinaro says five of the 10 Canadian games is a pretty big ask.
“When I saw the number five games I thought, you know, that’s really asking a lot because that’s half of the games that Canada is going to get.”
The wildcard in the whole process, says Molinaro, is Vancouver. If that city doesn’t secure provincial funding or doesn’t solidify its bid, that would leave just Edmonton and Toronto.
“If Vancouver gets its stuff together and is serious about this, then I think there is the potential that Edmonton could be harmed by this (ask).”
Sohi said he’s confident in Edmonton’s bid.
“We built a very strong business case for us to participate in the bid and eventually be selected.”
The City of Edmonton understands that if it is selected to host, work will need to be done to satisfy FIFA, including upgrades to city facilities, improving Commonwealth’s changeroom, replacing the stadium’s artificial turf with natural green grass.
Those upgrades would improve the experience for users long after the 2026 event, Sohi said, and would put Edmonton in an even better position to bid on and host other international events.
“Edmonton is known for being a host city for international events,” Sohi said. “This is not the first time… We have demonstrated to supporting agencies that we can do it and we do it with absolute dedication. We have the amenities that meet the high standards of FIFA and other agencies.”
What that could mean for teams that currently call Commonwealth Stadium home, like the Edmonton Elks, has yet to be determined. Officials will work with all stakeholders when the time is right, Sohi said.
“At this time, all the focus has been to secure provincial funding. I’m really happy with the way Minister Orr and his officials and staff stepped up and their willingness to work with us.”
The Edmonton Elks said Thursday the team doesn’t have any comment on stadium enhancements and alterations at this stage. However, spokesperson Evan Daum said if Edmonton’s bid is successful, “we’ll be happy to expand further on how the 2026 World Cup will impact our operations.”
Elks president and CEO Victor Cui is optimistic.
“Personally, I’ve seen the impact hosting major international events can have on a city, so the prospect of Edmonton hosting portions of the 2026 World Cup is an exciting one,” Cui said in a statement to Global News.
“The economic impact of an event like the World Cup is clear, but just as importantly these events have the power to leave a positive impact on the city and community for decades.
“As proud Edmontonians, we’re excited about how hosting the 2026 World Cup would add to Edmonton for years to come.”
Money will also have to be spent on security, transportation, operational costs and other logistics, Sohi said. But, the mayor believes it’s all worth it.
“The potential for entire province of Alberta… I would love to expand the reach of the FIFA games beyond the Edmonton region. How do we engage young people in rural communities… get soccer players visiting?
“This could be a moment in the way we could unite our whole province to hold the best possible festival.”
The city expects FIFA will make a decision on host cities in April.