New Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani knows how to make a splash. Less than four months into his reign at the top of the game he made a pronouncement few could have predicted.
Canada, a country that has failed to qualify to the men’s World Cup finals since The Golden Girls were the hottest thing on TV and Lionel Richie ruled the airwaves, is going to bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
Well, that’s one way to qualify.
Reaction to the announcement was predictable. Canadians can be a cynical bunch at the best of times and the suggestion that our Northern soccer wasteland could possibly do what the likes of Brazil, Germany and Italy have done was met with dismissal and indignation.
How dare we attempt to be a player on the world stage? We should know our place, and our place is between Uzbekistan and Central African Republic in the FIFA rankings.
The “Canada sucks” narrative fails to address a few key points. Most notable among them is that hosting a World Cup requires a different set of strengths than winning on the pitch. Yes, the world powers have hosted, but so has Japan and Korea, South Africa and, by the time 2026 rolls around, Qatar and Russia.
Canada fits in just fine with that latter group. In fact, a strong argument can be made that Canada is better placed to host the world’s most popular sporting tournament than even the venerable football nation Brazil. As Canadians, we are sometimes blind to the fact that we are one of the wealthiest, safest and most stable democracies in the world. We have survived the current global economic meltdown better than almost any other country on earth.
It’s why FIFA keeps selecting Canada to host tournaments, including its second largest event (2007 FIFA u20s) and second most important (2015 Women’s World Cup).
Starting with the 1987 U17 World Cup, Canada has a long history of hosting events. In fact, if the 2026 bid were to be successful, Canada would be a Women’s U17 tournament away from having hosted every FIFA event in both genders. Throw in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, and Canada is poised to become the first country in the world to have hosted every 11 v 11 event at least once.
So, we’ve paid our dues with the so-called minor events, and we’ve done so in style. Canada gets behind these events in ways that few countries do. It would be naive to think that an ability to sell women’s u19 tickets will have much influence on FIFA’s decision to award the 2026 World Cup, but there is little doubt that Canada has earned a chance.
There is also little doubt that Canada could pull it off. No, we don’t have the proper facilities right now to host the World Cup. But then again, Brazil doesn’t have the proper facilities to host the World Cup right now and it is hosting it in two years. We have the money to change that. If we were to win the right to host the event we’d get it done.
There would be an internal debate about the need to spend billions on upgrading/building 10 or so stadiums, but that would be a political conversation, not a sporting conversation. If we decide as a nation that this is important, it would happen. It’s foolish to think otherwise.
If you conclude that Canada can host the World Cup that leaves just two questions: Should they want to and can they win a bid?
The former is a no-brainer. Although some will scream that the CSA should walk before it runs, hosting a World Cup would be a hell of a boost for the sport. It would provide for desperately needed infrastructure, would probably be an impetus for a Canadian league and would galvanize corporate Canada into supporting the national team.
Nothing but good would come from winning the right to host a World Cup.
But, can Canada win its bid?
Qatar did. And it’s been a long time since CONCACAF hosted. Also, there are only three countries in CONCACAF that possibly could host it and two already have.
An argument can be made that not only could Canada win the bid, they might actually be the favourite to do so.
It’s a long time until the bid gets serious – and UEFA will likely argue that it should host 2026 – but let’s not be cynical for once. We should aim high and, for once the CSA is doing just that.