Hello, 2014: 10 news events that will define the year ahead

Now that we've put 2013 to bed, it's time to look ahead to the stories of 2014, which will include the Olympics, the World Cup of soccer, an independence referendum in Scotland and dramatic elections in the U.S. and Afghanistan, amongst others.

From Olympics to the World Cup to the Toronto mayoral election

The 2014 World Cup of soccer, which will feature 32 teams (including those from Mexico and Costa Rica, pictured), will take place in Brazil. (Ezequil Becerra/AFP/Getty Images )

Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia (Feb. 7-23)

After an epic journey of nearly 63,000 kilometres that saw it carried to the bottom of a lake, to the North Pole and even the International Space Station, the Olympic flame will be lit for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi on Feb. 7. These games – the first held in Russia – will feature eight new events, including women's ski jump, biathlon mixed relay, a figure skating team event, a luge team relay involving three sleds per team, the ski half-pipe (a Winter X Games favourite), both ski and snowboard slopestyle (a tricks competition in a terrain park) and a snowboard parallel special slalom that sees snowboarders race head to head. Canada will be sending more than 200 athletes, and the send-off for our Olympic team is Jan. 11 in Banff, Alta.

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The premiere of Season 2 of House of Cards (Feb. 14)

Many television series will be resuming in 2014, but few will return as triumphantly as House of Cards. Starring Kevin Spacey as a diabolically cunning U.S. congressman, this web-only show premiered on Netflix in February 2013 and proved to be a game-changer for television. It showed that Netflix, up until now a video streaming service, could be a viable producer of original content on a par with HBO and AMC.

Netflix redefined the idea of a broadcast network, and has gone on to produce a number of other acclaimed shows (including Orange Is the New Black). Perhaps most importantly, House of Cards is damn fine entertainment — it picked up a slew of Emmy and Golden Globe award nominations, and will no doubt have tongues wagging (again) come February.

Afghanistan presidential elections (Apr. 5)

This next year is going to be a pivotal one for Afghanistan, which has been in a state of war since American troops invaded in October 2001 in an attempt to oust the Taliban. For starters, there’s an election. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who came to power in 2001 with the support of the U.S., cannot run for re-election in 2014. The field of candidates is diffuse, with no real favourite, and Taliban attacks remain a going concern.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who came to power in 2001 with the support of the U.S., cannot run for re-election in 2014, which brings an unpredictability to the country's upcoming vote. (Canadian Press)

The U.S. military is hoping to provide stability by staying on for another decade, but a top Taliban commander recently said that as long as the U.S. remains in the country, there can be no peace. Whoever gets elected in April will somehow need to reconcile these conflicting agendas.

World Cup of soccer, Brazil (June 12-July 13)

The eyes of the world will be on Rio de Janeiro this summer, as Brazil hosts the globe’s biggest sporting event: the FIFA World Cup. The 2014 tournament marks the first time a South American country has hosted the event. Brazil is crazy for futebol, and with good reason — their national squad has the most World Cup championships (five) and is already favoured to win the 2014 tourney.

Anniversary of the beginning of First World War (June 28)

Some cite June 28, 1914, as the beginning of World War One – the day Bosnian Serb student Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo. Others say it was July 28, when Austria-Hungary officially declared war on Serbia. Russia allied with Serbia the next day. And some say the great conflict truly began Aug. 2, when Germany invaded Belgium and declared war on Russia - and on France the next day. (Britain declared war on Germany Aug. 4.)

Whatever your view of history, 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One, which saw the debut of new strategies and weapons, from trench fighting and poison gas attacks to tank and air battles. It resulted in military and civilian deaths on a scale humanity had never experienced before - an estimated 16 million were killed and more than 21 million wounded. WWI collapsed empires, sowed the seeds of new ones and was short-sightedly described by some as "the war to end all wars."

Referendum on Scottish independence (Sept. 18)

Scotland is to hold a referendum on Sept. 18 to decide whether it should be an independent country, with the backing of the government of the United Kingdom.  Scotland has been a British state for more than 300 years – since a political union with the Kingdom of England on May 1, 1707. The 2014 vote may be a simple yes or no, but a vote to separate from the U.K. would raise a host of complicated issues. What currency would be used? How would it change Scotland's banking system? Would the country remain in the EU? And what about the U.K.'s Trident nuclear weapon system, which is based in Scotland?

Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, hopes Scots vote in favour of independence from Great Britain come September. (David Moir/Reuters)

If the vote is a 'yes' for independence, experts say it could take years to work out all the issues. Recent polls suggest the majority of Scotland's voters prefer to remain part of the U.K., but indicate that the margin between the pro- and anti-independence groups shrank in the latter part of 2013.

Completion of the world’s tallest building (maybe)

Bigger than the CN Tower, bigger than the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, bigger even than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – once completed, Sky City in Changsha, China, will be the tallest building on Earth. The 838-metre tower will have 220 stories, no fewer than 17 helipads and in addition to residential housing, it will contain a hospital and five schools. Not only that, it has been engineered to resist a magnitude 9 earthquake.

While the architectural renderings of Sky City have wowed people the world over, the project has hit several snags, mainly over safety concerns and building permits. The developer, China’s Broad Sustainable Construction, initially boasted that once construction on Sky City started, it would only take 90 days to complete; they’ve since amended their estimate to seven months. Even so, there’s a good chance Sky City will be a reality by the end of 2014.

Toronto municipal election (Oct. 27)

The saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was one of the internet’s favourite stories in 2013, and this meme is likely to continue its run into the new year. Ford’s admission of crack cocaine use, episodes of public drunkenness and off-colour language have been a gift to late-night TV hosts. City councillors advised the mayor to take a leave of absence, but he refused. Not only that, he has vowed to seek re-election in 2014 and promised that it will be “war.” The battle comes to a head on the night of Oct. 27.

U.S. midterm elections (Nov. 4)

In November, Americans will have the opportunity to vote in the midterm elections, which will determine the standing of legislators such as Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who played a large role in the debate over health insurance. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Around the mid-point of every presidential term, Americans go to the polls to cast votes for their representatives in the Senate and Congress — this is known as the mid-term election. Given the legislative battles between Democrats and Republicans over the debt ceiling and government funding, as well as the troubled rollout of Obama’s universal health insurance, the midterms are likely to be dramatic. Many political commentators believe that lawmakers who voted in favour of Obamacare could be vulnerable to defeat.

25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (Nov. 9)

A quarter-century ago, citizens in East and West Germany cheered the toppling of the Berlin Wall, a potent symbol of cold war conflict that ran like a giant gash through this extraordinary city. Berlin will be staging events all year long to mark the anniversary, but is saving the grandest gestures for Nov. 9. On that day, the city will unveil a new permanent exhibition called “25 Years Fall of the Wall” at the Berlin Wall Memorial and marking the entire 12-kilometre length of the wall with illuminated helium-filled balloons.