Toronto’s time? Countdown on for FIFA’s selection of 2026 host cities

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Soccer fans, business leaders, and city officials are eagerly awaiting a decision — expected in just weeks — that could see Toronto selected by FIFA as one of the host cities for games played during World Cup 2026.

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The city is in the running with Vancouver and Edmonton as possible hosts for soccer’s grand, global event – hosted by Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.

“I think if it would come to Toronto, it would just be huge for the soccer culture in general – not just Toronto, but Canada,” said soccer player Sebastien, a member of the North Toronto Nitros youth development program.

“Soccer in Canada, in general, has completely improved.”

One of the Nitros youth squads were practising after school last Thursday at the Downsview Park Soccer field — each member hoping to follow in the footsteps of players at the national team level.

“You look at the money being pumped into soccer now. Having World Cup matches in Toronto — it would help everyone be attracted to soccer,” said Nitros player Tommie Macleod.

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Anticipation in Toronto — and across the country — is already high for Canada’s first World Cup appearance since 1986 in Qatar this November.

But the idea of having international games just a short subway ride away has many soccer fans excited. Eighty matches will be played in 16 cities in North America.

Canada’s Cyle Larin (17) celebrates scoring a goal with Richie Laryea (22) in a FIFA World Cup qualifying game against Jamaica at BMO Field in Toronto, Ont., on March 27, 2022.
Canada’s Cyle Larin (17) celebrates scoring a goal with Richie Laryea (22) in a FIFA World Cup qualifying game against Jamaica at BMO Field in Toronto, Ont., on March 27, 2022. Photo by Carlos Osorio /Reuters

“I never got to see or experience a World Cup,” said Alex Yesufu, as he prepared for afternoon practice with the Nitros.

“So to have that opportunity be great, and it would even inspire other kids to take up or continue playing soccer.”

The impact on participation in the game — and on the city — would be dramatic.

But the long selection process has been inching along for months.

It is now coming to a head.

On April 6, city council voted 21-1 to accept a host nomination if FIFA offers the opportunity.

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Staff have pegged the cost of hosting some games in Toronto at around $290 million.

“I don’t think there’s anything much better than to have some of those games here,” Mayor John Tory told council colleagues in the minutes before that vote.

Toronto has also been in discussion with provincial and federal officials to help cover $177 million of the total cost.

“I think that the kind of contribution to the economy this will make, will more than repay all of the money that is going to be put into this,” Tory told council.

Toronto Mayor John Tory speaks at a March 27, 2022 press conference about construction of the new Ontario subway line.
Toronto Mayor John Tory speaks at a March 27, 2022 press conference about construction of the new Ontario subway line. Photo by Veronica Henri /Toronto Sun

“We need to keep putting the city on the map and making sure people see it, come and experience it.”

Since last fall, officials from FIFA have visited candidate cities across North America.

Part of the city’s pitch is to expand BMO Field from 30,000 to 45,500 seats to accommodate the expected crush of spectators.

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World Cup 2026 will be the first to feature 48 teams.

Among the 16 cities selected, 10 will be in the U.S., with three each in Canada and Mexico.

The city’s executive committee has said in a report, “hosting part of the 2026 World Cup will bring global media attention and could result in positive economic and cultural impacts for the city.”

It expects the benefits of hosting five matches to include an estimated $307 million dollars of GDP impact, 3,300 jobs, and 174,000 overnight visitors.

“There’s been a lot of work put into it,” Councillor Mark Grimes told council before the motion passed April 6.

“Once it does get here, this city will be abuzz with excitement with all the great little communities we have.”

In Little Italy, there is deep enthusiasm.

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“Cafe Diplomatico branded itself as soccer headquarters years ago and now College St. itself has become a destination place for soccer, that’s for sure,” said Rocco Mastrangelo Jr., co-owner of Cafe Diplomatico, on College and Clinton Sts.

“I think actually having Toronto host games would make everything even better, more excitement. We would be drawing a lot of tourists.”

FIFA has not given a specific date for revealing the successful host cities, but the announcement is expected by mid-June at the earliest, according to a report Friday by the Associated Press.

“I think it will be something that will bring the city together in a big way,” the mayor pitched to council on April 6.

On the soccer pitch at Downsview, they hope Toronto is granted this “kick at can” on the global stage.

“Soccer is getting bigger, and we have all these new fans, and more people getting into it is really good for our country,” said the Nitros Kalen Franklin.

“It would be really good to see everyone wearing red and white, and start to pick up the game.”

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