Edmonton's chances to host FIFA games hinge on provincial funding, mayor says

Edmonton is part of the winning bid to host the men's 2026 FIFA World Cup but getting teams on the actual turf in the city is not a guarantee.

'We still have a great shot though there's more work to do to get to the finish line'

Canadian Christine Sinclair, left, kicks the ball in front of Betsy Hassett of New Zealand, right, during a 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup game in Edmonton. (Todd Korol/Getty Images)

Edmonton is part of the winning bid to host the men's 2026 FIFA World Cup but getting teams on the actual turf at Commonwealth Stadium is not a guarantee.

The joint North American bid includes 23 cities in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, including Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal. FIFA said it will choose 16 host cities for the international soccer tournament.

Mayor Don Iveson is hopeful Edmonton will snag three or four games.

"We still have a great shot though there's more work to do to get to the finish line," Iveson said Wednesday, following news of the winning bid.

Iveson said Commonwealth Stadium is earmarked for upgrades regardless of whether the city gets to host FIFA 2026 games. 
Mayor Don Iveson is calling on the provincial government to support Edmonton in co-hosting 2026 World Cup games. (CBC)

"We know that we have the best stadium in the country," Iveson said.

Edmonton proved its hosting abilities during the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, he said.

"We know that FIFA remembers that so I think that puts us in a really good position," he said.

A major factor in the city's ability to host World Cup games in 2026 is funding from the Alberta government for things like security, transportation and facilities.

"The hurdle we need to overcome is provincial support," Iveson said. "If we could put the question of the province's support behind us, then we can make sure that we check all the other boxes and make it to the final 16."

Costs and potential economic impact

It's estimated to cost each city between $30 and $50 million to host 2026 games. Cities are expected to benefit from a $170-million windfall if they end up staging three or four FIFA World Cup games.

The city and federal government are already on board with funding the matches. 

Iveson said the city needs tens of millions of dollars from the province, depending on how many games the city hosts.

FIFA will want to know that the city has enough money to host the games, he said.  

"The longer the province delays, the more challenging that is, the more risk is that we drop off as one of the seven cities that doesn't get to do it."

In a statement Wednesday, Alberta's minister responsible for sport, Ricardo Miranda, said the province has received a request for funding from the city.

"[We] are awaiting a more detailed business plan that addresses the financial needs for a bid," Miranda said. 

"We will work closely with the City of Edmonton and the federal government on this in the weeks ahead."

FIFA is set to decide the winning host cities by 2020, Iveson said.

'Exciting times ahead'

Sophie Schmidt played on Team Canada during the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup and recalls the buzz around the stadium and the tournament.

"Edmonton is a special place for soccer and I would love to see it come here," Schmidt told media at city hall Wednesday morning. "Commonwealth is an amazing stadium, I love playing there." 
Canadian soccer player Sophie Schmidt played in the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup and hopes Edmonton will host some games in 2026. (CBC)

Schmidt, who has played professionally in Frankfurt, Germany, for four years, believes Edmonton is well-positioned to co-host the international soccer event.

"We all wanted it, our team wanted it, the country wanted it. It's exciting times ahead."

She said a joint Canada-USA-Mexico bid will provide challenges, "especially for transportation," she said. "But I think it's also exciting to see the tournament over such a vast distance and see what that will bring."

Two video screens, a bigger press box

The city is working with the Edmonton Eskimos and other community groups on a master plan to upgrade Commonwealth Stadium.

The lights and video screens need to be replaced. 

"We still need to upgrade the press box, with or without FIFA," Roger Jevne, branch manager for the city's recreation facilities, said Wednesday. "The scoreboard will have to be changed out with or without FIFA."

Jevne admitted that co-hosting 2026 World Cup would make the press box upgrades a priority. 
The stadium is slated for several upgrades starting in about 2022, regardless of whether Edmonton hosts the 2026 World Cup. (stagingconcepts.com)

"Make it a little bit bigger and bring it up to sort of a modern standard so that the broadcast can go live around the world," he said. "The number of broadcasters we anticipate, our press box is just too small to handle that."

To prepare for the 2015 Women's World Cup, the stadium got new locker rooms, which are now used by visiting CFL teams, Jevne said. 

If the city is chosen to host 2026 games, Commonwealth would need to meet minimum FIFA requirements, like having real grass to either replace or go over the artificial turf.

Jevne said they'll come up with cost estimates over the next four years with upgrades to Commonwealth starting in about 2022. 

@natashariebe

About the Author

Natasha Riebe

Journalist

Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.

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