Game-changer: Ball might bounce Is­land’s way in 2026 World Cup

Times Colonist - - Front Page - CLEVE DHEENSAW cd­heen­saw@times­colonist.com

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.

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