The biggest and most popular sporting event on the planet is coming to Canada.
In a historic vote held in Moscow on Wednesday, the “United Bid” of Canada, Mexico and the United States beat out Morocco to win the right to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, marking the first time that international soccer’s marquee event will touch down on Canadian soil.
The “United Bid” won the vote 134-65 over Morocco during a special congressional meeting where every single member nation of FIFA, excluding the four potential host countries, cast a ballot.
“Hosting a FIFA World Cup is an extraordinary honor and privilege,” Steven Reed, President of Canada Soccer, said in a statement.
“Canada, Mexico, and the United States are ready to welcome the world to North America and serve as stewards of the largest FIFA World Cup in history. Our vision is of a world of opportunity for our Candidate host cities and for the global football community.”
Noted sports writer Stephen Brunt called Wednesday’s decision a “water-shed moment” for soccer in Canada during Sportsnet’s broadcast, a sentiment echoed by former Canadian national team players Craig Forrest and Jason deVos.
“This might take a few years to sink in,” said Sportsnet soccer commentator James Sharman, who was in Moscow and witnessed the vote take place.
There were some concerns ahead of Wednesday’s vote that anti-U.S. sentiment around the world, fuelled by President Donald Trump, would hurt the “United Bid.” But in the end, it was a non-factor, as the “United Bid” earned more than double the votes of Morocco.
Mexico previously hosted the World Cup in 1970 and 1986. The United States staged the tournament in 1994. Canada has never held the competition, but it did host the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Canada’s only appearance at the World Cup came in 1986 when it loss all three of its games and crashed out in the first round.
Wednesday’s vote offers hope that this could lead to an entirely new generation of Canadian youngsters taking up soccer, which could have long-term benefits for the men’s team, whose only World Cup appearance came in 1986 in Mexico.
“The possibility of hosting the World Cup in Canada would be an absolute game-changing event for the sport in this country,” deVos told Sportsnet this week.
“I go back all the way to growing up in London and my start in the game. Everything I went through as a player over the years – the ups and downs, the heartache, the injuries, the disappointments, the bouncing back from really hard times – it was all for that jersey. It was all for wearing that jersey, to represent my country and get us to a World Cup.
“If we get to host in 2026, that’s the realization of a lifelong dream, to get back to the World Cup, and to give kids that opportunity to be inspired like I was in 1986.”
Wednesday’s vote is also good news for the new Canadian Premier League that will launch next year.
This a milestone moment for soccer in this country. Having the 2026 FIFA World Cup in Canada will transform the way that Canadians perceive the global game and change the way the world sees Canada,” CPL commissioner David Clanachan said in a statement.
“We look forward to having the 2026 FIFA World Cup played in Canadian stadiums, and we are even more excited at the possibility of having CPL athletes playing on the world’s biggest stage on home soil.”
Historically, the host nation has always automatically qualified for the World Cup – it hasn’t been forced to play games in order to qualify for the tournament.
However, FIFA previously ruled that should the “United bid” beat out Morocco, the number of host countries to automatically qualify for the 2026 World Cup would be decided by another vote by the FIFA council sometime in the future.
The 2026 World Cup will expand to 48 teams from 32, and will feature a new format of 16 round-robin groups of three teams with the top two from each pool advancing to a 32-nation knockout round. The tournament will still take place over 32 days.
The “United Bid” calls for the U.S. to host 60 matches, including all games from the quarter-finals through to the final. Canada and Mexico would each host 10 games.
“We are very excited and humbled that the FIFA member associations have entrusted the Concacaf region with the honour of hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup in its new extended format,” CONCACAF said in a statement.
“This is a monumental victory for the Concacaf family, as the United Bid exemplified the strong collaboration, beyond politics and business, that currently exists in our region.”
Three Canadian cities – Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto – could potentially host matches. The “United Bid’s” organizing committee will now work in conjunction with FIFA to decide which cities will get games, although FIFA makes the final call.
The American candidate cities are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
The Mexican candidate cities are Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey.
In total, 23 cities are part of the “United Bid,” and 16 cities will be selected by FIFA to host games.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off on Thursday, with host Russia taking on Saudi Arabia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. The 2022 FIFA World Cup will take place in Qatar.
For more from Sportsnet, click here.
Don’t expect any games in Vancouver, yet
Ten games will be held in Canada but Vancouver isn’t in the mix, at least for now.
The provincial government nixed the idea after Premier John Horgan said he was not about to give FIFA a “blank cheque” back in March.
As a guest on Sportsnet 650’s Starting Lineup Wednesday morning, CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani was asked whether there was a chance or hope things could change and see Vancouver host a game or two.
“No,” Montagliani said. “It’s not going to happen. And the reality is it’s not about Vancouver, it’s about our country. And our country’s a little bit greater than any city, so.”