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Why Horgan should rethink his opposition to hosting World Cup games

In recent days sports bars were saturated and living room couch cushions compressed as men’s teams sought the Euro 2020 and Copa América soccer titles. This is not news: We know the Lower Mainland is soccer-mad, in a good way.

In recent days sports bars were saturated and living room couch cushions compressed as men’s teams sought the Euro 2020 and Copa América soccer titles.

This is not news: We know the Lower Mainland is soccer-mad, in a good way.

But we also know that in 2018 John Horgan made many soccer-mad, in a bad way.

Then a rookie B.C. premier, he rebuffed the opportunity for the provincially owned, event-craving BC Place to stage men’s World Cup games when Canada, Mexico and the United States play host to the planet’s biggest sport’s biggest spectacle in 2026.

Horgan said he didn’t want to sign a blank cheque eight years hence.

But much has happened in the interim to clarify costs, many blank pandemic-related cheques with many zeros at the end have since been signed, and an opportunity is emerging for Horgan to soften his stand and bring games to what is, after all, a year-round hub for the sport.

The conversation remains open. The idea is still on the table. The initial decision could be undone, particularly now that Montreal last week withdrew as a host city, leaving Toronto and Edmonton as lone stagers. But only if the B.C. government goes where the Quebec government wouldn’t: into the treasury on a mission to make this more of an investment than a divestment. Nothing has necessarily changed the province’s mind, but something could still.

The Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) has been clear it prefers Vancouver’s participation. The city earned plaudits for its participation in the 2015 Women’s World Cup. A major connection is Vancouver businessman Victor Montagliani, president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), one of the sport’s regional governing bodies, and a FIFA Council member. No doubt he wants a hometown 2026 presence.

But time is running short – FIFA will determine host cities in January and wants to tour prospective sites this fall. In case you’re wondering what FIFA pays for the privilege of holding the event here, well, the privilege is ours alone. We give what we’ve got and then some.

The rumoured staging price is steep: $60 million to host three first-round games in the field that will be more dilute than ever. In case you’re wondering, there is no guarantee we’d see the Canadian squad, with its main asset, Vancouver Whitecaps graduate Alphonso Davies, arguably the best left-back in the world, now playing for Bayern Munich.

A relatively small issue is that BC Place would, like so many of the American sites in National Football League facilities, need a natural grass surface atop the synthetic one.

But a big-ticket item – one that might remain unclear pretty much until the event and might prove to be the deal-breaker – is the sizable security and border costs federally and provincially and the indemnification cost for Canadian hosts. The federal government is so far indicating it is only in for half of those expenses, and speculation is that it could approach a 10-figure tab nationally. This is where Horgan is correct about a blank cheque. His government isn’t likely to step forward until there is greater clarity – and charity – coming from a senior partner.

As for junior partners, our former mayor Gregor Robertson was a notoriously aggressive local recreational player. But this council is not sporty by any measure. It doesn’t see the throughline from the encouragement of sport to the definition of identity. While it continues to contemplate support for a 2030 Winter Olympics bid, the World Cup and its deep roots in our ethnic diversity is nowhere on the agenda. It has an uneven, unchampioned track record in courting events, leaving that to others.

A bid would be a grand gesture and political risk at once, and initially it seems hard to square that with Horgan’s prudence as a premier. Then again, there are many more possible benefits beyond the hefty tag for the three games: friendlies in advance and after, training and staging camps in Vancouver and elsewhere in the province and tourism dollars that might otherwise not materialize.

From a facilities standpoint, the province stands to be the beneficiary, because BC Place is operated by the BC Pavilion Corp., better known as PavCo. The Major League Soccer (MLS) Whitecaps and Canadian Football League’s BC Lions call it home. But apart from a handful of trade shows and superstar concerts each year, it is far more idled than addled.

If we aren’t going to tear it down, let’s certainly use it.

We are going to get a taste of what we could savour in 2026 more imminently when 2022 World Cup regional qualifying games are announced shortly for Vancouver. The 2022 World Cup has been delayed, not by the pandemic but by the climate. Host Qatar is screaming hot in mid-year, so the event has been put back to November and December, when its temperatures are more temperate.

Canada has to host seven games in this round in November and next January, and BC Place and perhaps Toronto’s Rogers Stadium are the only two covered stadiums to present predictable comfort, so expect some games here.

We are bound, too, to be tempted to buy back into 2026 because a November game would feature Mexico against Canada and a January one would feature the United States against Canada. When Canada last played Mexico, 15,000 people came here. A U.S. game would bring even more. But only if plenty of Canadian currency is in the mix with those pesos and Yankee dollars will the real event really come here.

On that, the betting line is still bearish. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.