Vancouver is back in the running to host games when the FIFA World Cup comes to Canada in 2026.
FIFA announced Thursday that the city has joined Edmonton and Toronto as candidate host cities after officials made a visit to the BC Place stadium.
Canada is co-hosting the tournament with the United States and Mexico, and nearly two dozen cities across North America are in the running to host games.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart took to social media to thank the province for partnering with the city on what he called an exciting opportunity to host the world’s largest sporting event.
Stewart wrote that Vancouver is one step closer to welcoming the World Cup “after months and months of hard work.”
B.C. had pulled out of contention in 2018 when Premier John Horgan cited the unknown costs of hosting the event, but he said last summer that a lot had changed since then and the province was open to entertaining a bid.
A statement from Melanie Mark, the minister of tourism, arts, culture and sport, said hosting the event would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for soccer fans and the province’s tourism sector.
Mark said Horgan has given her a mandate to support the tourism and sport sectors as they recover from the impacts of the pandemic and hosting World Cup games in 2026 would “serve as a beacon” after two challenging years.
Vancouver hosted nine games during the 2015 Women’s World Cup, including the final, which drew more than 50,000 fans.
The B.C. government has estimated that hosting World Cup games in 2026 could bring more than $1-billion in new revenue for the tourism sector during the event and for the following five years, said Mark’s statement released Thursday.
Moshe Lander, a senior lecturer in economics with a specialization in sports at Concordia University, cautioned against taking the number at face value.
Such calculations typically use the “multiplier effect,” or the idea that money spent in connection to an event such as the World Cup will be spent again by the recipients, generating more economic activity, he said in an interview.
Lander said that relies on assumptions about how much money will be spent again when estimating possible gross revenue, not net, and it doesn’t consider factors including the significant costs of hosting the event, Lander said.
“It’s a black box that has just no number that you can put on it, because there’s no way to know, 3½ years out, what that cost will look like,” he said of the potential price tag for hosting the World Cup in 2026.
“When FIFA comes to town, and you sign a contract with them, they get to dictate every aspect of what’s involved in bringing that stadium up to World Cup snuff,” Lander said. “And they could be dictating up to like a week before the game, so you never know in terms of security costs, in terms of facelifts and modernization, if they don’t like the condition of the field itself.”
Destination BC confirmed Thursday that the $1-billion estimate represents gross tourism revenue and does not include the cost of hosting the event. The figure also doesn’t include benefits that aren’t related to tourism, it added.
Lander said an event as large as the World Cup could also deter locals who want to avoid traffic and crowds, or tourists looking to visit Vancouver, which is already an established destination, for other reasons.
“You have to be fair in presenting those figures in a way that shows the net effect. If for every tourist that comes, it’s squeezing [another] tourist out of that Vancouver hotel room, the net effect is much closer to zero than it is to some humungous number that [officials] want to put into a report.”
Lander noted that he’s a sports fan, and he’d be happy to watch World Cup games in Vancouver.
However, he said he’d like to see greater government transparency about the real economic costs and benefits of hosting the event to ensure taxpayers can understand and make informed decisions about whether they support it.
“What I want to see is a worst-case scenario that you could imagine ... and here’s a best-case scenario where nothing goes wrong,” Lander said.