The National Today

Canada's tab for World Cup 2026 will be huge - here's why

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Canada's World Cup 2026 bill is likely to be astronomical; musicians reminisce about Toronto's Massey Hall; Irish government wants to modernize its constitution by doing away with the offence of blasphemy

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

FIFA has awarded the 2026 World Cup to the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton have signed on as host cities and will share up to 10 early round matches, and each will serve as a home training base for one of the teams. (Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton have signed on as FIFA World Cup 2026 host cities, and the cost of even limited participation is likely to be astronomical
  • Toronto's Massey Hall has hosted the best musicians in Canada and the world, and now it faces a challenge - how to renovate the building without ruining the acoustics
  • Ireland's government wants to modernize the country's constitution by doing away with the offence of blasphemy and removing an article suggesting that a woman's place is in the home
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Footing the World Cup bill

Canadian soccer fans will get to party like never before as a host nation for the FIFA 2026 World Cup. But the final bill might end up causing more headaches than the hangovers.

The successful tri-nation bid, along with the United States and Mexico, almost surely guarantees that the Canadian men's soccer squad will make its second-ever World Cup appearance as part of the expanded 48-team tournament.

Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton have signed on as host cities and will share up to 10 early round matches (it's now up to FIFA to design the schedule), and each will serve as a home training base for one of the teams.

Decio de Maria, President of the Football Association of Mexico, left, and Canadian soccer player Alphonso Davies presented a joint United bid by Canada, Mexico and the United States to host the 2026 World Cup at the FIFA congress in Moscow on Wednesday. (Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press)
The cost of even such limited participation, however, is likely to be in the hundreds of millions.

Start with the stadiums.

FIFA requires a minimum seating capacity of 40,000 for the group rounds through the quarter-finals, rising to 60,000 for the semis, and 80,000 for the tournament's opening and closing games.

Toronto's BMO Field, which seats "over 30,000" will need to be expanded — at least temporarily. Although the big stadiums in Edmonton and Montreal, which both hold around 56,000 people, will surely do.  

Soccer's governing body also has standards about things like lighting, dressing rooms and media centres, which will require some further upgrades.

Canada's national team celebrates a goal during CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer action in Vancouver in November 2015. Canada failed to qualify for this year's competition, but should have a spot in the 2026 World Cup as a co-host nation. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
And even if FIFA let the 2015 Women's World Cup be played on artificial turf — over the objections of the athletes — that won't wash for the men. Olympic Stadium in Montreal will therefore need to be outfitted with a temporary grass playing surface, which costs somewhere in the $1 million to $2 million range. Which, of course in chump change when you're talking about 'the Big O,' which has already cost taxpayers close to $1.5 billion and still needs a new $250 million roof.

The rough estimate that Toronto and Edmonton came up with for the cost of staging their matches was $30 million to $55 million each, depending on how many they are allotted. Montreal City Council has pegged its costs a little higher, at $69 million — not including the stadium improvements.

None of those figures factor in security costs, which have become the bane of organizing committees all over the world.

The Vancouver Olympics, for example, originally budgeted $175 million for security and ended up spending $900 million. And Ottawa just spent $396 million on cops, cars, fences and all the other necessaries to protect the G7 leaders at their 28-hour summit in La Malbaie.

Then there are FIFA's other demands, which include a total tax holiday for itself and participating teams, an exemption from local labour laws, and that host cities and other levels of government not only carry all other costs, but assume the liabilities too.

Canadian national soccer team head coach John Herdman discusses the successful joint North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup at a press conference in Toronto on Wednesday. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)
That "blank cheque" arrangement is what prompted B.C. Premier John Horgan to torpedo Vancouver's bid to become a host city in March.

Similar concerns led Minneapolis and Chicago — home of the U.S. Soccer Federation — to pull out. "FIFA could not provide a basic level of certainty on some major unknowns that put our city and taxpayers at risk," Mayor Rahm Emanuel explained 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."

The World Cup is the best-attended sporting event on the planet and easily draws the largest TV audience, so there are clearly spin-off benefits — up to $5 billion in economic activity and 40,000 short-term jobs, according to organizers.  

But just how much can it actually cost the hosts?

Brazil ended up spending $15 billion on the 2014 tournament, including $3 billion on some stadiums that have since been left to rot.

The cities involved in the successful 2026 FIFA World Cup bid. (CBC News)
This year's host, Russia, may end up taking the title of most expensive tournament, with its costs currently estimated at $14 billion before a single game has been played.

Qatar, which will host in 2022, is spending up to $500 million a week on stadiums and other major infrastructure projects, and expects a final outlay of more than $200 billion as it readies to receive the world.

FIFA, on the other hand, will make a tidy profit — like the $2.6 billion the organization took home from Brazil 2014.

Ian Hanomansing on assignment

"New York has Carnegie Hall. In London, it's Royal Albert Hall. And here, it's Massey Hall."

That's what Geddy Lee, the front man for Rush, said to me as we stood on the Massey stage.

I have to admit, when producer Greg Hobbs pitched me on doing a story about Massey Hall shutting down for major renovations I wondered whether people outside Toronto would care.

After all, there are great halls across the country, like the Orpheum in what has been my hometown for many years, Vancouver.

But I quickly discovered celebrating Massey doesn't diminish any of those other venues. A 124-year-old space which has put so many talented performers — both up-and-coming and established — in the spotlight deserves a little attention itself.

From Caruso to U2 to Gordon Lightfoot, Massey Hall has been home to the best in Canada and the best of the world. Now those responsible for its future are entrusted with renovating the building without ruining the acoustics.

We spoke to some iconic performers and got great video of this National Historic Site, and it's on The National tonight.

  • WATCH: Ian Hanomansing's feature on Massey Hall, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

Here's a sneak peek at part of Geddy Lee's conversation with Ian Hanomansing inside Massey Hall:

Geddy Lee of Rush talks to CBC's Ian Hanomansing about recording the 1976 live album All the World's a Stage at Toronto's Massey Hall. 0:39

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Ireland's battle with blasphemy

The Irish government is pushing ahead with attempts to modernize the country's constitution by doing away with the offence of blasphemy and removing an article suggesting that a woman's place is in the home.

"In terms of Ireland's international reputation, this is an important step," Charlie Flanagan, Ireland's justice and equality minister, said yesterday.

"By removing this provision from our constitution, we can send a strong message to the world that laws against blasphemy do not reflect Irish values and that we do not believe such laws should exist."

A man walks past the Papal Cross in Dublin. Blasphemous libel was a common-law offence in Ireland for centuries, and the modern Defamation Act makes being 'grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion,' a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. (Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)
A referendum on both proposed changes will likely take place in October, at the same time as an expected presidential election.

Blasphemous libel was a common-law offence in Ireland for centuries. No one had been prosecuted for the crime since the 1850s, but in 1999 a court ruled that the narrow focus of the law — it only applied to Christianity — was at odds with the 1937 constitution's guarantee of religious equality.

A decade later, the Irish government passed a new Defamation Act that made being "grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion," a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine.

There has never been much support for the law. In 2013, a coalition of 14 churches raised concerns about the "obsolete" provision, expressing fears that it could someday be used to justify the oppression of minorities.

But it was a 2017 attempt to prosecute British actor Stephen Fry for blasphemy that really brought the issue to the fore.

In a 2015 interview with the RTÉ television program The Meaning of Life, the comedian and author was asked what he would say to God if he arrived in heaven.

"I'd say, bone cancer in children? What's that about?," Fry replied.

'The God who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish,' Stephen Fry said in a 2015 interview with the RTÉ television program The Meaning of Life. (David Donnelly/CBC)
"Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?," he went on. "We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of god would do that?"

"The God who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish."

An unidentified man watched the show and laid a complaint with the Garda in County Clare. He pushed for almost two years until the matter broke into the open last May — not because he was offended by Fry's statements, but rather, it seems, by the law that prohibits people from saying such things.

The police quickly cleared Fry of the allegation, but only on a technicality — saying that they had been unable to find the "substantial number" of outraged "adherents" that the law sets as the threshold for prosecution.

Last month's landslide vote in favour of repealing a constitutional ban on abortion seems to have emboldened the government of Leo Varadkar to tackle some other long-standing promises, like a blasphemy referendum and doing away with Article 41.2 of the Constitution, which pledges state support to prioritize a "woman's life within the home."

Both proposed changes were overwhelmingly endorsed by a 2013 Constitutional Convention that was charged with trying to bring Ireland into the 21st century.

A few words on …

Making sense of supply management:

Quote of the moment

"It was very frustrating. Somebody telling you you're not your name. I showed them all my IDs. I showed them my citizenship. How are you going to put a Canadian citizen in jail?"

- Olajide Ogunye, a Nigerian-born Canadian who is suing the Canadian Border Services Agency for $10 million after he spent eight months in jail waiting for them to verify his identity.

Olajide Ogunye. (Grant Linton/CBC)

What The National is reading

  • Pot legalization battle brewing as government rejects key Senate change (CBC)
  • Macedonia reaches name change deal with Greece (CNN)
  • Indian soldiers killed in cross-border Pakistani shelling (Al Jazeera)
  • Seattle repeals 'Amazon tax' a month after approving it (CBC)
  • Spain sacks manager on eve of soccer's World Cup (BBC)
  • Radical plan to split California into three states earns ballot spot (LA Times)
  • Einstein's travel diaries reveal 'shocking' xenophobia (Guardian)
  • Sea urchins see with their feet (Science Daily)

Today in history

June 13, 1985: 4,000 Manitoba laws declared invalid

It began with a speeding ticket, ended up in the Supreme Court of Canada and cost the government of Manitoba millions in translation fees. Manitoba had been an English-only province since 1890, but Canada's top court ruled that its founding 1870 document, which guaranteed equal precedence for French, was still in force. All thanks to the famed Bilodeau factum.

The Supreme Court rules that the province's English-only laws must be translated into French. 6:11

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.