Vancouver on side­lines for 2026

Politi­cians, sports of­fi­cials ex­press re­gret that city won’t be part of his­toric event

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY GEMMA KARSTENS-SMITH

When World Cup soc­cer comes to North Amer­ica, Vancouver will be on the side­lines, cre­at­ing mixed feel­ings for lead­ers in sports, busi­ness and pol­i­tics.

Soc­cer’s in­ter­na­tional gov­ern­ing body has ap­proved Canada, Mex­ico and the U.S. as joint hosts of the 2026 tour­na­ment, and Toronto, Mon­treal and Ed­mon­ton are all can­di­dates for where games could be played.

Vancouver was also on the ini­tial list, but the Bri­tish Columbia gov­ern­ment with­drew its sup­port in March af­ter it couldn’t come to an agree­ment with FIFA on how much host­ing would cost.

B.C. Premier John Hor­gan said Wednesday that hav­ing the tour­na­ment in North Amer­ica will be great, but he doesn’t re­gret his gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion.

“We weren’t pre­pared to write a blank cheque, we’re still not pre­pared to write a blank cheque for a soc­cer tour­na­ment that would not guar­an­tee a spe­cific num­ber of games, would not guar­an­tee the du­ra­tion of the clos­ing of B.C. Place and would not give us a fi­nal dol­lar fig­ure,” he said.

Lib­eral MLA Michelle Stil­well thinks the gov­ern­ing New Democrats were too quick to pull the plug.

“Now B.C. is get­ting left out,” she said. “I think it was an op­por­tu­nity for us to pro­mote not only our love for the sport. It was, more im­por­tantly, an op­por­tu­nity to pro­mote our city and our prov­ince.”

Vancouver has played host to in­ter­na­tional sport­ing events be­fore, in­clud­ing the 2010 Olympics and the women’s World Cup in 2015.

Those events need to be viewed as in­vest­ments in the fu­ture, said Charles Gau­thier, CEO of the Down­town Vancouver Busi­ness Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion.

“Soc­cer is such a pop­u­lar sport around the world that it would have brought peo­ple in from lit­er­ally all parts of the globe,” he said.

A mem­ber of the only Cana­dian team to ever play in a men’s World Cup said he is ex­cited to see the tour­na­ment played on home soil, whether it is in his city or not.

“I’m ab­so­lutely ec­static. The op­por­tu­nity to be a part of a World Cup in Canada is not some­thing that I ever thought I’d be around for,” said Bob Le­nar­duzzi, pres­i­dent of the Vancouver White­caps.

Back in 1986, Le­nar­duzzi played on the Cana­dian team that made it to soc­cer’s big­gest stage. He even got close to scor­ing a goal.

“I had it at my feet and I got a lit­tle over ex­cited and dragged my foot along the grass be­fore I hit the ball,” he said. “I didn’t make good con­tact and the keeper made an easy save. But I could’ve been the guy that scored a goal for Canada.”

It is ex­tremely dis­ap­point­ing that Vancouver won’t host any of the games, Le­nar­duzzi said, but hav­ing the World Cup in Canada is still sure to have an im­pact.

“There’s more than likely kids that are 10, 11, 12 years old that can re­al­is­ti­cally look ahead and say ‘I want to be part of that 2026 team.’ And I know as a young­ster, you’re fu­elled by dreams.”

One White­caps player hopes his dreams will come true when the World Cup comes to North Amer­ica.

Mid­fielder Alphonso Davies made a pas­sion­ate speech to the FIFA World Congress ahead of Wednesday’s vote, de­scrib­ing how he was born in a refugee camp in Ghana be­fore his fam­ily im­mi­grated to Canada.

“My dream is to some­day com­pete in the World Cup. Maybe even in my home­town of Ed­mon­ton,” said the 17-yearold, who’s al­ready made Canada’s men’s team.

“I’ve played matches in Mex­ico, Canada and the United States. The peo­ple of North Amer­ica have al­ways wel­comed me. If given the op­por­tu­nity, I know they’ll wel­come you.”

Le­nar­duzzi said he had goose­bumps watch­ing Davies speak.

“I think his speech tran­scended soc­cer,” the White­caps pres­i­dent said.

“He did it with such poise and en­thu­si­asm and was wideeyed by the end of it. And I was so proud of him and just de­lighted for his fam­ily that they could live the Cana­dian dream.”

AP PHOTO/ALEXAN­DER ZEMLIANICHENKO

Alphonso Davies of Canada speaks at the FIFA congress on the eve of the opener of the 2018 soc­cer World Cup in Moscow, Rus­sia, Wednesday.

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