Analysis

2026 World Cup: What we know (and don't know) about Canada's role as co-host

Canada has won the right to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup along with the United States and Mexico. So what, exactly, is in it for us? Here are answers to some key questions about Canada's role in the joint effort.

Which cities will host? Will Canada get to play? Answers to those and other questions

Canadian men's national team player Alphonso Davies, right, and Decio de Maria, President of the Football Association of Mexico helped present to FIFA a successful joint bid by their countries and the United States to host the 2026 World Cup. (Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press)

The world's biggest soccer event is coming to Canada.

On Wednesday, Canada, the United States and Mexico won the right to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will mark the first time ever that men's World Cup matches will be played in Canada.

But how many exactly? Will the Canadian men's national team actually get to play in the tournament? And how much is this going to cost?

Here's a look at those questions and a few more in the wake of Wednesday's announcement.

CBC's Chris Brown on how the North American bid beat out Morocco. 3:35

What does Canada get?

While the World Cup has had co-hosts before, this is the first time three nations have successfully won the right to stage it together.

In 2026, the World Cup will expand to 48 teams (this year's tournament in Russia has 32), and the so-called "United" bid calls for 80 matches to be spread across the three host nations, with 10 in Canada, 10 in Mexico and 60 in the United States. All games from the quarter-final stage forward are expected to be played in U.S stadiums.

Where will the matches be played?

Sixteen North American host cites have been proposed, and the Canadian sites are Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton. Games would be played at BMO Field in Toronto, Olympic Stadium in Montreal and Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

But even though the bid has been accepted, it doesn't mean Canada is guaranteed 10 games in those three cities come 2026. Canada's allotment could be reduced as the FIFA council — a 30-plus-member board overseen by Gianni Infantino, the president of soccer's world governing body — has the final say on the number of games each country gets and the specific locations.

Men's national team head coach John Herdman talks about the great opportunity Canada has playing host and being part of the FIFA 2026 World Cup. 1:38

Will the Canadian team get automatic entry?

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. A final decision may not come for a few years, after the qualifying format for the new 48-team field is finalized. The expanded field probably helps Canada's chances of getting a spot.

How much will this cost and who will pay?

This is a big question. When it comes to figuring out what the final bill could be for host cities, there are many unknowns. So far, there has been a lot of focus on the potential economic benefits. The joint bid's website boasts that the event "is projected to generate more than $5 billion [US] US in short-term economic activity, including the creation of 40,000 jobs."

"The problem is, with events of this magnitude, there are huge costs as well," says Prof. Simon Chadwick, a director of the Centre of Sports Business at Salford University in the United Kingdom. "Sometimes people talking about the benefits are somewhat disingenuous as they talk about the benefits without talking about the costs. The net economic benefits for these type of mega events tends to be marginal."

For example, Toronto municipal officials have estimated it would cost the city between $30 million and $45 million to host three to five World Cup games, including potential stadium upgrades at BMO Field. Those figures don't include security costs, which can be hard to predict. For example, security costs for the Vancouver Olympics were originally estimated to be $175 million. The final price tag ended up being $900 million.

Still, Toronto Mayor John Tory supports hosting the World Cup.

"Hosting the FIFA World Cup is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to showcase Toronto to the world," he said. "Coming off the success of the [2015] Pan Am/Parapan Am Games and the [2017] Invictus Games, it is clear that Toronto and Torontonians are ready to be one of the host cities for this iconic event."

Joint bid with U.S. and Mexico beats Morocco in voting by FIFA member states 1:19

The city's support is contingent on federal and provincial funding. In recent months, the federal government has committed millions to a successful bid and indicated it would help offset security costs. Ontario premier-designate Doug Ford also indicated support for the bid. 

Have any major cities said they don't want to host matches?

Yes. Vancouver was supposed to be a key part of the Canadian bid, but city and provincial officials were never comfortable with the concessions required by FIFA. 

"While we support the prospect of hosting the World Cup, we cannot agree to terms that would put British Columbians at risk of shouldering potentially huge and unpredictable costs," B.C. Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Lisa Beare said in a statement.

B.C. Premier John Horgan told reporters that while he would like to see the World Cup come to Vancouver, he was not about to write "a blank cheque" to FIFA.

Canada's men's national soccer team hasn't been able to qualify for the World Cup since 1986. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The City of Chicago followed suit.

"FIFA could not provide a basic level of certainty on some major unknowns that put our city and taxpayers at risk," the Chicago Mayor's office  said in a statement. "The uncertainty for taxpayers, coupled with FIFA's inflexibility and unwillingness to negotiate, were clear indications that further pursuit of the bid wasn't in Chicago's best interests."

Adds Chadwick: "Essentially, FIFA is a franchise. It comes to town for a month and then it leaves. So whatever happens in the run-up to the franchise arriving and whatever happens when it leaves is left for the city or host to deal with."

Will hosting the World Cup "grow the game" in Canada?

Soccer officials (and those in other sports) like using that phrase. And there is no question that attending World Cup games on home soil would be the ultimate sporting experience for Canadian soccer fans. But what impact will hosting a handful of matches actually have on the growth and development of the sport in Canada?

"We will use the opportunity of hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup to extend the reach of the game, working to energize communities to embrace the sport in new ways, developing the game at all levels, and engaging the next generation of players, officials, and fans as never before," reads the 2026 United bid website.

Yes, hosting a World Cup in Canada could give elite young players something more tangible to aspire to. And it may shake Canada's men's team out of perpetual mediocrity. Maybe.

But there is no evidence that hosting events like the World Cup boosts participation or improves grassroots infrastructure. Chadwick points to London's 2012 Olympic experience.

"One of the reasons given for the bid was that it would boost mass participation in sport, leading to a generation of fitter, healthier people," he says. "What's really shocking is that, since 2012, participation in sport in Britain has gone down, not up."

There's also the current state of soccer in Canada, which appears healthy. The women's national team program is strong after winning bronze at each of the last two Olympics. Major League Soccer, which has franchises in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, is gaining increased global respect. And the Canadian Premier League is about to launch. Meanwhile, more Canadian children are playing soccer than ever before.

"Youth soccer is so well developed in Canada, the United States and Mexico," says Peter Donnelly, a professor with the University of Toronto's Centre for Sport Policy Studies. "It's hard to see what would be added."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said Canada as a host would automatically get a berth in the 2026 World Cup. In fact, FIFA will vote on the matter because this is the first time three countries have hosted the World Cup.
    Jun 13, 2018 8:37 PM ET

About the Author

Jamie Strashin

Reporter

Jamie Strashin is a native Torontonian whose latest stop is the CBC Sports department. Before, he spent 15 years covering everything from city hall to courts and breaking news as a reporter for CBC News. He has also worked in Brandon, Man., and Calgary. Follow him on Twitter @StrashinCBC

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