Alberta Pushes in the Chips When it Comes to the World Cup Bid
Is slapping conditions on $110-million in funding going to be too much of an ask for FIFA?
By Steven Sandor | March 29, 2022
Scene: Jason Kenney walks into the saloon, his saddlebags bursting with money from the surplus. At the table, waiting for him, are Ontario Premier Doug Ford and British Columbia Premier John Horgan.
Kenney sits down.
“Deal,” says the premier. He’s got an ace and a jack. He reaches into his saddlebags and pushes stack after stack of money to the middle of the table. And then he signs an IOU note for more. A total of $110 million.
“All in,” he says. “You boys want to host the World Cup, you gotta call this bet.”
Metaphorically, that’s what happened Tuesday, as the provincial government ended months, no, years, of hand-wringing by announcing $110.12 million has been earmarked in Edmonton’s bid to host World Cup matches in 2026. Edmonton, along with Toronto (which has been in since the start) and Vancouver (was in, then the province of B.C. pulled out, and now has interest in being in again), are in the mix. FIFA, the world’s governing body of soccer, performed site inspections in Toronto and Edmonton last November — and the Edmonton visit came while the Canadian men’s national team played two World Cup-qualifying games in front of more than 90,000 fans.
The number alone suggests that Edmonton isn’t a turnkey bid. If the provincial portion alone is over $100 million, what’s the budget after the federal and municipal allocations are brought to light. As I’ve mentioned before, there are varying tales from the table of what FIFA has asked Edmonton to do in order to bring Commonwealth Stadium to men’s World Cup standard (which is far different from Women’s World Cup standard, which Commonwealth met in 2015.)
We know that FIFA now demands a permanent grass pitch, not a temporary grass pad that’s rolled on and off. That grass pitch needs to be installed by 2025, to give time for the turf to set and then face the tests that come with friendly matches.
But Kenney isn’t just pushing the money on the table, daring the other Canadians cities in the bidding process to do the same. He’s doing something that we don’t see many people do to FIFA — he’s laid down conditions to the soccer body.
Because the $110 million is conditional. That’s right. Conditional. No one talks to FIFA like that. FIFA is getting set for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and every one of its asks are met. It’s expecting extravagant bids for the 2030 games.
Here’s what the province said:
This funding commitment is subject to the following terms and conditions:
Confirmation of federal and municipal funding for the bid.
Acknowledgement and acceptance of the province’s letters of assurance as presented to the City of Edmonton and in response to the FIFA Government Guarantees.
Confirmation that the City of Edmonton is assured to host at least five games by FIFA, if accepted as a host city, and that at least two of these five games are at the round of 32 or round of 16 knockout stages.
Confirmation that unforeseen security costs will be the responsibility of the city and the federal government.
Allocation of one-third of the seating allocated to the City of Edmonton.
The big one here? The minimum of five games, and guarantee that two will be marquee, knock-out stage games.
The bid book for the 2026 World Cup predicts that three Canadian cities will host games. In the mock schedule, one city has four games, the other two have three each. Each city has one knockout match.
So, Alberta is asking for more than the bid calls for — but, the question, will three Canadian cities indeed be left standing in the end? Still, it’s a significant ask and change of course from what has been outlined.
The 2026 World Cup will be the first to have 48 teams; in 2022, Canada will join 31 others in Qatar. The increase to 48 teams means, well, more dog games on the schedule. And, as good as the World Cup is, it does have its share of early-round can-miss matches. What if we spend this money and, through the luck of the draw, get Mali vs. Saudi Arabia? North Korea vs. Slovakia? (These are hypotheticals, and, well, no offence meant to these nations).
The province is basically saying, “if we’re going to spend the money, we have to get value back.” As in, guaranteed knockout games.
Heck, the only thing that would have been more brazen was a demand that Canada play at least one of its matches here.
The cynic, though, would point out the political value of what Kenney has done. If FIFA says no, he can claim that the province did its part and put up the money. In fact, you could be a full-on pessimist and say that the province structured the funding in a way that it’s expecting it to be turned down.