When I was young, I was a fan of the Marvel series of What If? comics. Each issue would show what the Marvel universe would be like if one major plot twist went another way. What would have happened if Spider-Man had married the Black Cat instead of Mary Jane Watson? What if other Americans had got the super soldier serum, not just Steve Rogers?
Each issue was a bizarre journey down a road not taken, in an already way-out fantasy world.
So, now that Edmonton is licking its wounds after Thursday’s announcement that we’re not getting any 2026 World Cup games, there’s no point in bashing you over the head with headlines you’ve already seen a bunch of times. Vancouver is getting games. Toronto is getting games. FIFA has decided to give 11 American cities games, rather than the 10 originally outlined in the bid book. For all intents and purposes, Edmonton’s games were sent south to the US of A. (By all accounts, Kansas City, not Vancouver or Toronto, is the beneficiary of Edmonton’s misfortune.) I was at Commonwealth Stadium, along with about 120 City staffers, media and Mayor Amarjeet Sohi to watch the announcement. There was still hope that all the rumours weren’t true. People applauded when Vancouver was announced as a home city. And when Edmonton didn’t get a spot, the long faces set in. A few tears.
At least the steak bites were pretty good.
Instead, let’s look at what would have happened in the What If? world.
What if Edmonton had got the games?
The province had already pledged a conditional $110 million, but had publicly stated that it would have only kicked in had FIFA given Edmonton a minimum of five games, more than the bid book had allotted. It also stated that, of those five, two had to be knockout games There will be many critics who will point to this conditional funding promise as a breaking point for the Edmonton bid — that this promise did more to hurt than it did help the process.
But, let’s just say the province got what it wanted and Edmonton had got five games. Let’s pretend that Sohi and the City of Edmonton staff — who worked well into the night over the last couple of days — were successful in convincing FIFA that they could be flexible despite the provincial edicts.
There would have been renovations that had to be made to Commonwealth Stadium. Grass, yes. But there would have been more.
“Mostly, it was about experience for people in the stadium, so they could see everything well, so they could see the game properly.” said City Manager Andre Corbould, as staff had what would be best described as a wake at Commonwealth Stadium. “We were committed to all that. The stadium was good to go.”
But, what would “good to go” have meant? While the Edmonton Elks were supportive of the bid, they would have been impacted. Putting grass into Commonwealth would take time. But renovations would likely have impacted CFL games in seasons to come.
Corbould could only confirm that the Elks’ administrative offices would have had to move out of Commonwealth Stadium “for a while.”
Then. the hue and cry. Construction costs are skyrocketing right now. An estimate from even two weeks ago doesn’t hold water. Contractors in Edmonton are guaranteeing estimates for as little as a week; that’s how volatile the market is. The pricetag to renovate Commonwealth in 2022 would not be the pricetag in 2025. We would have got a lot of debate if this is a wise use of our money. That debate will come to Vancouver and Toronto, places that are even more expensive to do business than Edmonton.
Then, the debate over which city would get Canada’s home games, and be somewhat insured from the risk of getting a batch of early-round games between nations that don’t move the needle when it comes to public interest. Imagine if Canada’s games all went to Vancouver, and we find out that, on top of that, Edmonton’s games don’t feature a European or South American power. Then we wonder if it’s money well spent.
Wait, this totally comes off as sour grapes. Sorry.
Sohi refused to blame the province, saying the conditions from the Tories were “not a roadblock” for the bid.
“We will look at what FIFA was looking for that we were not able to offer, to build on future bids for future events we can apply for,” said Sohi when he spoke to the media.
But, now that FIFA has rejected Commonwealth Stadium, isn’t that kind of a… message? About future events? That it’s harder and harder to “sell” a stadium built in the 1970s, when North America is filled with space-age new venues that look like the stuff of science fiction? And, remember that any attempts to modernize Commonwealth, to drag it out of the 1970s, won’t be supported by provincial or federal funds, like it would have been had there been World Cup games here.
Still, it’s OK to feel for the staff of the city of Edmonton. For the people involved in the bid. I spoke with Traci Bednard, the CEO of Explore Edmonton, just minutes before the announcement was made. She did her best to shut out all the rumours that Edmonton was out. And she compared it to the work she used to do trying to attract flights to Edmonton International Airport.
“This kind of international positioning of Edmonton, there are a lot of similarities with what I would do with air service for years and years and years,” said Bednard. “It’s about selling and improving your community. And it all comes down to one decision.”
One decision. What if?