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Whitecaps president endorses World Cup bid for Vancouver

Bob Lenarduzzi says ‘opportunity not coming along again’
Bob Lenarduzzi, the president of the Vancouver Whitecaps, was at city hall Tuesday to promote a bid for the city to become a host city for the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup. Photo Mike Howell

The president of the Vancouver Whitecaps successfully urged city council Tuesday to proceed with a bid that could see three to five men's World Cup soccer games played at B.C. Place Stadium in 2026.

Bob Lenarduzzi touted the power of the world's largest sporting event and emphasized how Vancouver had a unique opportunity to showcase elite soccer and benefit economically from the event.

"I don't want to downplay our importance as Canadians and as Vancouverites, but this opportunity is not coming along again," he said, referring to Canada joining the United States and Mexico in a three-nation bid for the World Cup. "It's there for us. We're a part of united bid and I think it will be looked favourably upon by FIFA because they like to grow the game in areas they feel are slightly behind."

Council unanimously approved Tuesday a series of staff recommendations for the city to continue working with Lenarduzzi and other partners involved in ensuring Vancouver becomes one of the host cities for the World Cup.

Total costs for Vancouver are far from being finalized because FIFA, which is the governing body for international soccer, has to first decide in June which country or countries will get the 2026 event. That process is then followed by FIFA – in 2021-- selecting 12 to 16 cities to host 80 matches.

Morocco is the only competing bid.

Some early cost estimates for Vancouver are that $10 million to $20 million will need to be spent to create a 35-day long festival for fans, where the public could view live games at sites similar to those created for the 2010 Winter Games.

Some of that cost could be covered by provincial and federal governments, according to Michelle Collens, the city’s manager of sport hosting, who outlined the bid process to council.

“There’s also an expectation that city services outside of the outer security perimeter that will surround B.C. Place for the competition venue will be provided by the City of Vancouver,” Collens said. “This would include traffic management plans, bylaw enforcement, sanitation and potentially lost revenue such as lost parking meter revenue. At this time, costs are not terminable, as scope, responsibilities and obligations are still to be defined.”

The bid committee commissioned a study by the Boston Consulting Group that estimated host cities could generate $90 million to $480 million per city. Substantial media attention and tourism are other expected spin-offs from hosting World Cup games.

Lenarduzzi said another benefit is boosting the numbers of young soccer players in the city and across the province. He noted when the Whitecaps folded in 1984, soccer registration was at 48,000. That dropped to 27,000 two years later.

“The Vancouver 86ers started up and the numbers bumped back up quickly,” he said. “So to further motivate those young soccer players -- men and women, boys and girls -- this kind of thing will put a huge, huge profile on the sport.”

Mayor Gregor Robertson noted Vancouver has a good record of hosting major sporting events, including the 2010 Winter Games and some games during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

“I think it would be a great honour for the city and certainly join the amazing achievements we’ve had as a city hosting world sporting events,” Robertson said. “It’s making it a trifecta, if we can pull this one off.”

Last April, Canada, the United States and Mexico joined their respective soccer associations together to create the United Bid Committee in a push to host the World Cup in 2026.

It's the first time in the history of the World Cup that three countries signed an agreement to bid as one entity. The committee selected Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal as potential host cities.

Another 25 cities in the United States and three in Mexico are also in the running to become host cities. If the three-nation campaign wins the bid, and Vancouver becomes a host city, soccer fans could expect three to five games to be played at B.C. Place Stadium. If only two Canadian cities are chosen, then each would get five games each.

The semi-final and final games would be played in the United States.

Canada’s national team would likely get an automatic berth in the tournament. But Lenarduzzi, who was a member of Canada’s team that competed in the 1986 World Cup, is optimistic soccer fans will not have to wait until 2026 to see their team play against the world’s best.

“I actually think we can get there for the next one [in 2022],” he told the Courier after the council meeting. “We should be, ideally, having our dress rehearsal then for 2026.”