Canada Soccer general secretary Peter Montopoli speaks at a press confrence at BMO Field in Toronto, Monday February 26, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Canadian soccer official calls 2026 World Cup bid vote a ‘watershed moment’

Canada, the U.S. and Mexico will make one last pitch Wednesday at the FIFA Congress in Moscow for their joint 2026 World Cup bid.

It is limited to 15 minutes, with bidding rival Morocco to follow at the Moscow Expocentre.

More than 200 FIFA member associations will then cast their ballot, deciding who gets to hold soccer’s biggest showcase.

“It’s a watershed moment for our country and for our sport,” said Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association and Canada’s bid director. “It’s not only about our sport and sports, it’s building a nation, it’s a nation-builder. And it gives us eight years to tell and deliver a great story for soccer, for youth, for grassroots, for men’s (soccer) alignment and for sports in general.

“It’s a game-changer.”

It would likely open the door to Canada finally returning to the men’s world stage — a widely expected scenario as co-host that has yet to be officially confirmed. But with the tournament expanding from 32 to 48 teams in 2026, tripling the hosts would not cause as many ripples.

Under the current blueprint, the U.S. would host the lion’s share of games with 60, compared to 10 each for Canada (with Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto serving as host cities) and Mexico.

But that could change after Wednesday’s vote when FIFA takes over the tournament planning. Canadian officials have already said that there is a movement to stage games in all three countries on the tournament’s opening day, should the so-called United bid carry the day.

Traditionally, the opening day has featured one game involving the tournament host. With three host countries, it would be natural to give all three host sides a Day 1 showcase.

The United bid made a presentation to UEFA officials on Tuesday, with CSA president Steve Reed handling the Canadian portion. They had done presentations for the five other confederations on Monday.

“We felt our message was very strong,” said Montopoli.

On paper, the two bids are worlds apart.

In rating the risk assessment of both bidders, with grades of low-, medium- and high-risk, FIFA’s own bid evaluation report gives Morocco three high-risk grades (stadiums, accommodation, and accommodation and transport), 10 medium and seven low.

The so-called United bid gets 17 low-risk assessments and three medium (organizing cost, legal-government support, and human rights and labour standards).

The evaluation report also offers a “technical scoring” of the two bids, with Morocco getting 274.9 out of 500, compared to the United bid’s 402.8 total.

Morocco plans to use 14 stadiums, nine of which have yet to be built with the other five due for renovation. The United bid plans to use 16 from a list of 23 — 17 of which are deemed just fine the way they are, with six needing renovation.

The United bid also has a massive edge when it comes to the all-mighty dollar — a key factor considering FIFA uses the world showcase to bankroll its operations. The North American bid projects US$14.3 billion in revenue compared to $7.2 billion for Morocco.

Hard numbers aside, it is a vote with Gibraltar having the same say as China.

And unlike past World Cup hosting decisions, it is being made by the 211 FIFA members associations (minus the bidding countries and any under suspension) as opposed to the FIFA executive committee.

President Donald Trump’s negative comments on African countries and his bid to tighten immigration restrictions on some nations have likely helped Morocco’s cause. However, the New York Times has reported that United bid officials have letters from the U.S. president saying all teams that qualify — and their fans — will be able to enter the country.

Montopoli, speaking for the Canadian portion of the bid, said only that they had the government guarantees they had required.

“Not to comment really on the U.S. side, but maybe they felt that they wished to go further in some additional letters which they had received from their president,” he added.

Montopoli says there could be as many as 1,000 people in the room when the two rival bids make their presentations. The FIFA member associations usually come with three delegates each and there will also be a good number of guests.

Taking no chances, Montopoli is pulling out his lucky charm.

“There’s a pair of socks that I like to wear for these type of situations,” he said in an interview.

The socks are red and Montopoli wore them when Canada won the right to host the 2015 Women’s World Cup as well as the 2012 and 2016 women’s Olympic bronze-medal matches.

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