The race is on: Canada continues to plan on bid for 2026 World Cup

TORONTO — By the time 2026 rolls around, it will have been 32 years since the CONCACAF region hosted the FIFA World Cup, and according to reports published on Wednesday, the president of the Liga MX believes a joint US-Mexico bid might be just the thing to bring the World Cup back to this part of the globe.

But another North American player already has its sights set on 2026: Canada.

“We’re the only G8 country that hasn’t [been selected to host] a [senior men’s] World Cup,” Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani told MLSsoccer.com this week. “Also, out of all the tournaments FIFA has, this is the only one that we haven’t [been selected to host.]”

While Montagliani (pictured, at left, with Canadian men's head coach Benito Floro) said there are “a lot of internal discussions yet to have” with various stakeholders, he confirmed – as first reported in July 2012 by CBC Sports – that the CSA is indeed planning to bid for the 2026 World Cup.

Recent events have suggested that Canada might be just the sort of host FIFA will be looking for when the next bidding process begins. The allegations of bribery and corruption in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and the reportedly poor human-rights records of both Russia and Qatar, could make voters more likely to consider a country with a less controversial reputation.

Neither Montagliani nor CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli wanted to speculate about what impact current events could have on future bidding processes when asked by MLSsoccer.com. But Montopoli did say that when it comes to Canada, FIFA has so far liked what it’s seen.

“We’re a welcoming country, and FIFA understood that [when considering bids for the 2015 Women’s World Cup],” Montopoli said. “Also, the multicultural mosaic of our country is very inviting to the world. … All we can speak to is what our country is. And if that’s the flavor that the rest of the FIFA member associations decide is inviting, then I guess that would bode well for us.”

Canada has plenty of experience hosting FIFA events, including the 2002 U-19 Women's World Championship and the 2007 U-20 World Cup (right), but its performance as host for next year’s U-20 Women's World Cup and the 2015 Women’s World Cup will presumably have a significant bearing on the chances of Canada 2026 becoming a reality.

However, Canada is using only four venues to host next summer’s tournament (Edmonton, Moncton, Montreal and Toronto) and six for the 2015 Women’s World Cup (adding Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver; Toronto is unavailable due to hosting the Pan American Games).

The country has only four stadiums that meet FIFA’s size requirement (60,000 capacity) to host a World Cup match – FIFA general secretary Jérôme Valcke has been quoted as saying at least 12 venues will be required for future World Cups – and none featuring the capacity of at least 80,000 required to host the opening match and final.

While a significant investment in venues and infrastructure would be required for a Canadian bid to get off the ground, past experience in hosting FIFA tournaments and the Olympics suggests that there could be sufficient buy-in from national and provincial governments and the public to get things built.

So why would a Canadian bid succeed where the United States did not? Because FIFA has awarded four of the last eight tournaments to countries where the sport is still developing (United States, Japan/South Korea, South Africa, Qatar). Canada is still largely a new soccer frontier – despite strong interest in the game from coast-to-coast, there remains no nationwide professional men’s league.

“FIFA has a responsibility, as their motto says, to the world,” said Montagliani. “The World Cup, although it’s the No. 1 showcase in the world, FIFA also sees it as an opportunity to develop football in other parts of the world.”

“I think an event of that nature would galvanize the interest to unparalleled levels in this country,” Montagliani said later. “For us, it would be tremendous.”