The FIFA World Cup is undoubtedly the most popular sporting event on Earth. The world stops and watches every four years while the best of the best compete for international glory in the world’s most popular sport: Soccer. With all that exposure, hosting the World Cup can provide a country with a treasure trove of publicity, potentially increasing a nation’s international stature. Countries and cities clamour for the opportunity to host matches—an opportunity that Montreal may soon have as part of the North American bid to host the 2026 tournament.
Earlier this month, the leaders of the joint Canada-United States-Mexico bid officially submitted a proposal to FIFA, the sport’s international governing body. Montreal, Toronto, and Edmonton are the three potential Canadian host cities, with three Mexican cities and 17 American cities rounding out the proposal. The final list will not be confirmed until 2021, one year after the host is selected between North America’s bid and the Moroccan Football Federation’s. For Canadian fans, a North American World Cup may seem like a dream come true, but fan sentiment should not be the only factor in such a decision. In fact, a closer look makes one thing clear: Montreal should pull out of the bid as soon as possible.
Hosting the World Cup could be a disastrous prospect for a city like Montreal, primarily because of the associated financial strain. Prior to submission, Vancouver, Chicago, and Minneapolis all withdrew from the North America bid due to FIFA’s financial demands. While Minneapolis is a relatively insignificant loss, the other two are major soccer hubs: Chicago hosted matches during the 1994 World Cup and is the home of U.S. national soccer, while Vancouver hosted the final of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. When asked about the decision, British Columbia Premier John Horgan explained that FIFA wanted a “blank cheque” to pay for expenses during the tournament. Chicago and Minneapolis cited similar concerns.
FIFA is not known for being kind to host cities with such blank cheques. Often, the government of the host city or region is expected to give FIFA access to an unlimited supply of taxpayer money to cover all expenses during the tournament, from athlete accommodation to security, to transportation, to stadium upgrades, or construction of a new stadium altogether. On that note, Montreal’s never fully operational Olympic Stadium has been gradually falling into disrepair, so either major renovations or a completely new venue would be necessary in order to host. Of course, the City of Montreal would be asked to foot the bill.
Furthermore, FIFA would be in charge of construction, and its human rights record is appalling. According to The Guardian, FIFA has been complicit in creating abusive conditions for temporary foreign workers, including salaries below minimum wage and unsafe work environments. Construction for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has pushed FIFA to an appalling new low—including forced labour, worker intimidation, and media arrests. While such violations might not fly in Montreal, from a moral standpoint, it’s clearly the right choice to not get in bed with such a reprehensible organization.
Meanwhile, FIFA uses its considerable power to negotiate tax exemptions, meaning that they escape with the lion’s share of the profits, robbing host nations of hundreds of millions of dollars. FIFA’s profits from a single World Cup often exceed the billion-dollar mark. On the other hand, by some estimates, Montreal would hold no more than four competition matches, meaning that the city would receive little in return for doing FIFA’s dirty work.
Time is running out for Montreal and the province of Quebec to pull out of the bid. If government officials know what is best for their city and wish to set a good example, they will do just that before Montreal is hit with an economic disaster beyond its control.