Game-changer: Ball might bounce Island’s way in 2026 World Cup
Those involved in Vancouver Island soccer are calling Wednesday’s decision to award the 2026 World Cup to Canada, Mexico and the U.S. a game-changer, and a generational moment, for the sport across this country.
And although B.C. Place won’t be hosting any games, because the provincial NDP government could not get cost assurances from FIFA, Victoria remains in the hunt to host pre-World Cup base camps.
Victoria was among 52 training base options presented to FIFA in the official bid booklet put forward by the United Bid, which defeated a bid from Morocco to host the 2026 World Cup of men’s soccer.
The Island is being considered to serve as a pre-World Cup training base camp for some of the 48 national teams, especially those that will be based at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton and CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
British Columbia might not be shutout from the 2026 World Cup entirely.
The provincial NDP government scuttled B.C. Place as a venue for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, citing the lack of cost assurances from FIFA, but Victoria remains in the running as a potential training base ahead of the competition that will take place in June of that year.
Victoria was among 52 training base options presented to FIFA in the official bid booklet put forward by the United Bid, which Wednesday morning defeated a bid from Morocco to host the 2026 World Cup of men’s soccer.
Two venues — the University of Victoria and Royal Athletic Park — are mentioned specifically in the United bid book. They could serve as pre-World Cup training base camps for the national teams that will be based at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton or Century Link Field in Seattle.
“The fact is we’re in the mix. And it’s great to be in the mix,” said Keith Wells, executive director of the Greater Victoria Sport Tourism Commission, whose job it will now be to sell the city to the United Bid committee and FIFA.
Pre-World Cup training camps, albeit depending on the stature of the national teams, are usually elaborate operations featuring highly paid pro players who gather with their national sides about a month before the competition starts. Most national teams prefer to establish their pre-World Cup training compounds away from their first-round group-game cities. Security is extensive.
Flight time from Victoria International Airport to Sea Tac Airport is about 40 minutes. Flight time from Victoria International to Edmonton International Airport is one hour and 20 minutes. The teams will be flying charter.
It was thought that Vancouver dropping out of the eligible list of cities would hurt Island chances to become a training base for 2026 World Cup teams. But while Vancouver was removed from the bid book as a venue, Victoria remained in as a possible training camp site.
“Our proximity to the Seattle and Edmonton venues is certainly satisfactory,” said Wells.
A mix of first-class hotels, dorms and residences would be required for the pre-World Cup training venues, along with several natural grass fields that are nearby.
“You never know what the international federations will want from the host committee,” said Wells.
Shawnigan Lake School has hosted numerous Canadian national team rugby and rowing camps as well as Vancouver Canucks development camps. When the idea of hosting 2026 World Cup training camps on the Island was first suggested last September, headmaster David Robertson said he would be very interested in pursuing those hosting opportunities.
“We are set up to do exactly that — host groups and teams here — and would love to be involved if the opportunity arose,” Robertson said.
It’s certainly a long way to 2026 but it’s never too early to start the lobbying. The process was started by Wells’ predecessor, former Sport Host Victoria (which became the Victoria Sport Tourism Commission) executive director Hugh MacDonald.
MacDonald was approached by Vancouver organizers about including Whistler, the Island and Swangard Stadium in Burnaby in their proposal as training-base venues. Whistler was dropped but Victoria and Burnaby remained as the bid book was finalized and sent to FIFA.
There are 23 stadium venues put forward in the United bid book, which will be whittled to 16. The combined economic impact on those 16 host cities is estimated at $5 billion US.
There will be 60 World Cup games in 2026 to be hosted in the U.S. and 10 in each of Canada and Mexico in the first expanded 48-team tournament. The proposed Canadian game venues are Commonwealth Stadium in the Alberta capital, BMO Field in Toronto and Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
The 2018 World Cup begins today across Russia. The 2022 World Cup is in Qatar.