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'Change it': FIFA encouraged by Edmonton's World Cup bid, but artificial turf has to go

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EDMONTON -

International soccer’s governing body expressed encouragement on Wednesday at Edmonton’s 2026 FIFA World Cup bid, but also noted that Commonwealth Stadium’s artificial pitch would have to go.

Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief competitions and events officer, was in Edmonton to witness the Canadian men’s national team’s victories over Costa Rica last week and Mexico on Tuesday night.

He said the fan support and the city’s event experience were obvious.

“The air was chilly. The atmosphere was warm,” he said. "To see the fans' support on what was a chilly evening was great to see.”

Smith spoke positively to reporters about the city’s bid and presentation earlier in the day, but noted the artificial turf at Commonwealth stadium wasn’t up to World Cup standards.

“Change it,” he said, when asked how the stadium’s pitch could be improved. "We play the World Cup obviously on natural grass.”

"It's about providing the ultimate stage to the ultimate players to play at the highest level.”

FIFA has previously said that it will make a hosting announcement in late 2021 but now says it will finalize the selection process in the first half of next year following a “thorough assessment.”

Today marks the start of the third round of potential venue inspections by Smith and other officials followed by visits to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Los Angeles and Toronto over the next five days.

He said that inspections focus on factors including transportation, accommodation, stadiums, and training sites.

"What we look at are the technical requirements we need to have a successful World Cup."

The tournament is expected to feature an expanded field of 48 teams with games spread across the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The two Canadian venues under consideration are Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium and Toronto's BMO Field.

Montreal’s Olympic Stadium had been part of the bid, but the city withdrew from contention in July.

The City of Edmonton launched a survey in August of 2020 to measure how Edmontonians felt about hosting part of the tournament.

Survey results showed 77 per cent of people in the Edmonton region supported a bid, the city said, up from 74 per cent in 2018.

Vancouver withdrew as a potential host city in March 2018, citing concerns over cost and financial transparency.

FIFA will select up to 16 venues to host tournament matches.

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