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Surrey, White Rock consider ‘activation zones’ for 2026 FIFA World Cup

Vancouver mayor in Surrey to talk about soccer’s biggest tournament
Canada midfielder Jonathan Osorio (21) and Morocco midfielder Sofiane Boufal (17) battle for the ball during a World Cup soccer game in Doha, Qatar, on Dec. 1, 2022. (File photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Vancouver’s mayor says Surrey needs to “seize the opportunity” presented by the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Ken Sim attended a Surrey Board of Trade luncheon Tuesday (May 14) for a chat about “Bridging Cities, Boosting Business,” touting the ultra-popular soccer tournament coming to BC Place Stadium for seven games just over two years from now, in June and July 2026.

“There are literally hundreds of opportunities, and I don’t think people understand how big this is,” Sim said when questioned by Anita Huberman, CEO and president of SBOT.

“Think of a Super Bowl, you know, a non-Taylor Swift-influenced Super Bowl. It draws about 150 million viewers, and an opening-round match for the World Cup draws 350 million eyeballs. We have seven games and they’re not just opening-round, we have round of 32 and round of 16. We are literally getting the equivalent of 30 to 40 Super Bowls over the course of a month. The world is gonna be seeing Vancouver. It’s insane.

“Like, if you think of Expo 86 and what it meant to our city, then you think of the Olympics and what it meant to our city, this thing is way bigger than both… It’s gonna be off the charts.”

• RELATED, from 2022: ‘Great for the game here’: Surrey soccer community welcomes World Cup matches in Vancouver.

Surrey Board of Trade’s Anita Huberman chats with Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim during a luncheon at Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

In conversation, Huberman said Surrey and White Rock are considering “activation zones” during the tournament, among other cities.

“FIFA is an interesting organization, and FIFA will do what FIFA wants to do,” Sim said. “But you know, they do have a vested interest in making sure the games are successful, and I do believe the onus is upon us to seize the opportunity and not wait, right? Just like we have entrepreneurs in this room. You don’t wait, you just go and you hustle and you take that opportunity, you take it to the next level.

“You have to realize,” Sim added, “there’s, like, 16 different sites that are hosting games. FIFA is really busy. They’ll celebrate the fact that Vancouver is hosting the games, but they’re not gonna be too concerned about White Rock or Surrey or Langley or where we locate our, you know, activation zones at a micro level. So it’s upon us to make it awesome.”

Video of Sim in conversation is posted to Surrey Board of Trade’s Youtube channel.

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim speaks at a Surrey Board of Trade luncheon at Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Costs to host the World Cup in Vancouver have escalated, raising concerns about the economic dangers of having the soccer games played here.

“I’m a big believer in, instead of trying to cut the pie a different way, we bake more pies, and if we bake more pies, everyone can eat more pie,” Sim said. “And so when you create economic opportunities, these are investments, and if we do it right, it’s not the cost of the games, it’s what do we get in return over the next 30 years? We bring economic prosperity here, we have more people working, we have more businesses successful, we create more tax revenue that then goes to fund social programs, schools, hospitals, building roads, and it lifts all boats.”

Sim cautioned that hotel rooms could be scarce during the soccer games in Vancouver, and that some people will be booking rooms far outside that city.

“As a region, we’re struggling through an affordability crisis in housing,” Sim noted, “so there will be some restrictions, obviously, on Airbnb, there are rules to follow. If you follow the rules, you’ll be able to rent your places. I think during the month-long World Cup is here, we’re gonna take that entrepreneurial spirit and we’re gonna look at every way we can make sure that people can stay in the region.”

That could mean people staying on cruise ships, but that’s not certain, he said.

“When I was in Doha (for the 2022 World Cup), they had about 15 cruise ships there, 12 or 15 or whatever,” Sim recalled. “We don’t have that ability to do that in Vancouver, we’re very limited with our infrastructure. So there’s only maybe a couple if we do that, but people might have to stay on the Island and commute or go up the Sea Sky Highway, up to Whistler, you know, throughout the region here. You can go even into the Interior of south of the border, we’re gonna have to be innovative.

“They can have negative connotation but trailer parks, they actually did that in Doha as well, right,” Sim added. “So there are all these ways that we can improvise and also people, you know, host people in their homes, we will get through it. The bigger picture is, let’s make sure we host amazing games and the world sees this region in a very positive light, because the payoff actually isn’t during the games, the payoff is over the next 30 years.”

BC Place Stadium will host seven matches during the 2026 World Cup, including two of Canada’s group-stage games. The schedule for the 104-game tournament will involve 48 teams across 16 host cities in Canada, Mexico and United States.

Tuesday in Surrey, Huberman asked Sim if he’s concerned about Surrey being the largest city in B.C. in five years, and what that might mean to Vancouver in terms of infrastructure attention by the B.C. government and the federal government.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Sim replied. “Like, it’s not a competition, maybe that’s where I came from. I would rather be number 72 on a winning ship or winning team than number-one on a losing team. And you wanna, like, support our partners.

“I mean, you could see this coming from a while away, we’ve been talking about it for about 30 years now, Surrey was the biggest jurisdiction in the country, from a land perspective, so it’s just obvious over time you would pass us in population,” Sim added. “But how awesome will it be like when we have a regional partner that carries a ton of weight and has influence? I think it’s absolutely fabulous.”

Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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