FIFA delegates tour Edmonton, experience fabric of the city

After a week of the Canadian Men’s National Soccer Team taking main stage in Edmonton, it was time for the smaller-sized players to get a bit of the spotlight. 

Free Play, the Edmonton-based after-school sports club tailored for children, played a supporting role at a news conference featuring politicians and FIFA delegates at the JW Marriott Hotel on Wednesday, November 17.

Free Play for Kids is a program for children whose families are unable to afford organized sports. Free Play includes soccer (Free Footie), football, basketball and hockey. With Explore Edmonton, the City is providing $10,000 to sponsor a Free Play soccer team next year as part of Edmonton’s efforts to be named a host city for the World Cup in 2026. Those young players will sport jerseys with the Edmonton 2026 and Free Footie logos. 

Councillor Tim Cartmell presented the  jerseys to FIFA delegates and MP Randy Boissonnault at the news conference.

It was a way to show off a bit of the fabric of the city.

“I think it’s so Edmonton,” said Ronna Bremer, the City of Edmonton’s Director of Partnership and Event Strategy.  “We try to be thoughtful, we try to take care of one another and build a community where all of our citizens can thrive, not just those who have the resources to actually do that.”

Fans watch the Canada vs. Costa Rica World Cup Qualifiers match at Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 12, 2021.

In cold, out warm!

The news conference was an opportunity for a bit of basking in the success of the two World Cup qualifying matches hosted at Commonwealth Stadium, in which Canada notched victories against Costa Rica (1-0) and México (2-1), and to which 91,018 fans showed up—in the flesh.

“[Tuesday] night was a special evening for Canadian soccer,” said FIFA Vice-President and CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani. “I think a lot of people walked into that stadium cold and walked out of there very warm.”

The back-to-back wins mean Canada is now alone on top of the CONCACAF standings in the months-long tournament to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. The top three teams qualify automatically.

The men’s team has not qualified for the World Cup since 1986. That was 14 years before star player Alphonso Davies was born. 

Davies was born in a refugee camp in Ghana to Liberian parents. At age 5, the family came to Canada and settled in northeast Edmonton. As an elementary school student, Davies played in Free Footie. His soccer skills were then honed at the soccer academy at St. Nicholas School and the Edmonton Strikers soccer club before he signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps on the way to his current club team, FC Bayern Munich.

Davies, centre, celebrates with teammates Steven Vitória, left, and Jonathan David after goal, Nov. 12, 2021, at Commonwealth Stadium. Courtesy: Canada Soccer.

World Cup 2026 games in Edmonton?

Edmonton is one of two Canadian Candidate Host Cities vying for World Cup games when the tournament comes to North America in 2026. FIFA delegates were in Edmonton to take stock of the city and its facilities and logistics. 

“I think they’re really assessing your city’s ability to deliver, and the fans played a big role in that,” said Bremer. “[The delegates] talked about how warmly they were received by Edmontonians and that the experience at the game was pretty spectacular.”

The host cities will be announced in early 2022. It’s been a team effort.

“While the City has had a key role, our external partners have come in and have been right there with us from the beginning,” said Bremer. “Explore Edmonton, the Edmonton International Airport, business community leaders and our training site partners, the University of Alberta, Ivor Dent Sports Park and Henry Singer Park. The list goes on. There has been so much support from lots of good people across the city.”

Councillor Tim Cartmell at JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District, Nov. 17, 2021.

As part of Edmonton’s pitch, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi shared with delegates and visiting soccer officials a bit of Edmonton’s soccer story in a video. Watch it, and watch for the Free Footie team, too: