For the first time ever, the FIFA World Cup will be held in not one, not two, but three separate countries — and experts predict future World Cups will likely be held across national borders as well.
The 2026 FIFA World Cup will be held across 16 cities in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Eighty matches will be played across the three host nations, with 10 in Canada, 10 in Mexico and 60 in the United States, and mega sports events expert David Roberts thinks there’s a good chance we could see more bids like this down the line.
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“I would imagine so, especially since the FIFA council approved this one,” explained Roberts, an urban studies professor at the University of Toronto. He added that the FIFA council recently changed the rules of host cities to make it easier for multiple countries to bid to host the World Cup together.
The decision comes in the nick of time, as the FIFA council seems to be facing similar challenges as the International Olympic Council when it comes to finding cities to host the events. In this bid alone, Chicago, Minneapolis and Vancouver all pulled out of the running to be named one of 16 cities to host a handful of matches.
For the 2026 World Cup, the FIFA Council found itself with only two bids to choose from. Similarly, the International Olympic Council has had trouble in recent years cobbling together bids to host the Olympic games as well. What does it come down to? Both Roberts and Olympic games expert Robert K. Barney told Global News that the costs associated with hosting just don’t add up.
“Countries and cities are considering whether this is the best use of resources,” Roberts said.
The only other time two countries have hosted together was during the 2002 World Cup, which took place both in Japan and South Korea — though, as Roberts explained, this was devised by the FIFA council alongside the countries’ national governments as a peace-making strategy, and had little to do with costs.
A report released back in January estimated that the cost to each host city as part of the North American joint bid would be approximately USD$35 million to USD$55 million. B.C.’s government issued a statement shortly after the World Cup was awarded to North America that it still did not want to participate, fearing an “unacceptable risk of additional costs to taxpayers.”
According to an April report from the organizing committee of the World Cup currently being held in Russia, costs to the host country had reached approximately USD$11 billion. Furthermore, according to Brazil’s Ministry of Sports, the country spent approximately USD$11.63 billion when it hosted the World Cup in 2014.
“[Cities] began to see it in a different light when the cost escalated beyond all reason, and beyond the amount of dollars that they could raise through normal revenue processes,” said Barney, a professor at Western University, whose research revolves around the history of the Olympic Games.
Barney has previously told Global News that there are other ways to balance the costs of hosting major sporting events — one of which includes selecting two cities to share hosting duties. Roberts agrees, adding that countries that wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate due to the costs of building additional infrastructure can now get involved at a lower price tag.
“Just hosting every game costs a certain amount of money. To spread that out may make it more tenable for some countries, especially those that might not have the infrastructure for 16 cities but might have infrastructure for three or four,” he said.
Even with the costs and responsibility evenly shared, there’s still the elephant in the room — the white elephant, that is.
“If there’s any constant in history or any lesson in history, it’s these white elephant Olympic facilities built in the cities of the world who have hosted the games,” Barney told Global.
There’s been ample criticism for governments — especially in the case of Montreal, Rio de Janeiro and Athens — who build expensive stadiums for major, international sporting events that then sit vacant for years after the medals are doled out and the athletes and crowds depart the million-dollar structure.
“There shouldn’t be any reason to build new stadiums in Mexico, the U.S., or Canada. If Canada were to try to do it on their own, you might have to build a few stadiums because there might not be 16 cities with stadiums,” said Roberts.
He uses the example of Toronto, a city likely to host a handful of World Cup matches as part of Canada’s co-hosting duties.
“There’s definitely some need in Toronto to expand BMO Field’s capacity and add some things, like luxury boxes. But we don’t have to build a new stadium.”
Only a handful of the 16 host cities have been selected so far, with Canada’s proposals likely being Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton.