Why Vancouver will be on the sidelines for the 2026 World Cup

The 2026 FIFA Men's World Cup is coming to Canada — but when it comes to hosting games, Vancouver will be watching from the sidelines.

B.C. government axed city's participation, citing concerns about unilateral contract changes

The fact BC Place won't be hosting any World Cup matches in 2026 is 'extremely disappointing' to Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi. (Vancouver Whitecaps)

The 2026 World Cup is coming to Canada, FIFA announced today — but Vancouver will be watching from the sidelines.

That's because B.C.'s NDP government decided not to support the city's efforts to be part of the bid involving cities across Canada, U.S. and Mexico, citing concerns over the possible costs of being a host.

In March, Tourism Minister Lisa Beare said the province didn't agree with the terms to host World Cup games put forward by the committee for the joint North American bid.

One of the first to criticize that decision on Wednesday morning was B.C. Liberal MLA Michelle Stillwell, who said that the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup and the 2010 Winter Olympics have shown that international sporting events have provided benefits for B.C.

"We can't just look at the infrastructure that was built: it's the long-term legacy, it's the inspiration, it's the community development, it's the volunteerism," Stilwell said.

"It's the money that comes from all the tourists who would come and spend their dollars in Vancouver and around B.C. and stay and visit and enjoy everything B.C. has to offer."

When asked about concerns around FIFA's demands of host cities, she accused the province of "forfeiting the game" by not negotiating a better deal from the international soccer body.

Lenarduzzi 'extremely' disappointed

Likewise, Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi says he's gutted his city won't be hosting any games. 

However, the former star of the national soccer team is still overjoyed the event is coming to Canada.

"I think the most important thing is that Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have the World Cup. Being a part of 2026 will be hugely significant," Lenarduzzi said on Wednesday morning.

"As far as us not having the potential to be one of these host venues, that is extremely disappointing. From a personal point of view, the opportunity to see a World Cup game in Vancouver would have been great."

Despite the disappointment of not being able to see a World Cup game in Vancouver, Lenarduzzi said the fact Canada will automatically qualify in 2026 is hugely significant. (Whitecaps FC)

Lenarduzzi stopped short of criticizing the government's decision to pull out of the bid.

"I'm not privy to the decision-making process from the provincial government's perspective," he said.

Unilateral changes rejected

Beare issued a short response on Wednesday morning.

"Our government has a responsibility to ensure that B.C. taxpayers are not on the hook for hidden costs. The province carefully assesses all sports events for value to taxpayers," she said.

"The FIFA bid agreement contained clauses which the government felt left taxpayers at unacceptable risk of additional costs. We tried very hard to get assurances regarding our concerns. Unfortunately, those assurances were not forthcoming."

Cities in line to host games during the 2026 World Cup include Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Cincinnati, Boston, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Mexico City. (CBC News)

Previously, Beare said those concerns included FIFA being able to unilaterally change the stadium agreement at any point.

The City of Vancouver originally supported the bid, but some others did not. Chicago and Minneapolis also withdrew, citing worries similar to the B.C. government's.

Great for Canada

Lenarduzzi, who was on the last Canadian men's team to play in a World Cup, in 1986, said one of the big wins for Canada is a chance to play in the 2026 tournament.

Traditionally, host nations have received an automatic spot in the tournament. But there has never been three hosts before.

The early indication is that Canada will get an automatic berth and avoid having to qualify — something it has done only once, in 1986. 

But a final decision may not come for a few years, after the qualifying format for the new 48-team field is finalized.

"It meant a lot then — but the profile of the World Cup at that time is nowhere near what it is now and will be in 2026," he said.

The Canadian team that secured qualification for the nation's first ever World Cup in 1986. (Canada Soccer / Flickr)

For today's young stars — like Vancouver Whitecaps' 17-year-old Alphonso Davies — that will be huge.

"By 2026 he'll be in his mid-20s. Look how much he has got to look forward to," Lenarduzzi said.

Whitecaps star made final appeal

Davies was part of the final presentation by the North American bid team at the FIFA Congress in Moscow this morning.

He told the congress how much playing for Canada would mean to him.

His parents fled their home in Monrovia, Liberia, to escape a civil war, he said, and they ended up at a refugee camp in Ghana, where Davies was born.

Vancouver Whitecaps' Alphonso Davies, centre, was part of the North American bid committee's presentation to FIFA. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)

"It was a hard life. But when I was five years old, a country called Canada welcomed us in," he said. "And the boys on the football team made me feel at home.

"... My dream is to some day compete in the World Cup, maybe even in my home town of Edmonton.

"The people of North America have always welcomed me. If given the opportunity, I know they will welcome you," he said.

With files from Liam Britten

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