CONCEPTION BAY NORTH, N.L. — The biggest sporting event in the world will be coming to Canada for the first time ever in 2026, and the excitement appears to have spread to the Conception Bay North area.
On Wednesday, June 13, a joint bid from North America that includes Canada was declared the host for the 2026 World Cup. Tentatively, that means upwards of 10 games will be played in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto. The 2018 World Cup is currently underway in Russia.
Don Coombs from Harbour Grace’s Conception Bay North Minor Soccer Association and Chris Bartlett, president of the Conception Bay North Lightning Minor Soccer Association in Bay Roberts, are excited about the country’s big coup. Beyond having an interest in attending the event eight years from now, both men expect its profile will be good for the development of Canadian soccer.
“I think it’s going to be amazing,” Coombs said. “I think the kids are going to get into it. It’s the biggest sporting event in the world.”
“It’s great to put the focus on soccer in this country,” added Bartlett, who has been involved with the Lightning group for several years. With the big event on the way, he anticipates Soccer Canada will offer more programming opportunities at the youth level to aid the sport’s development.
“There’ll be programming that I guarantee Canadian soccer will put in place that will help us develop players better, and when players are developing better and getting more opportunities, the numbers will just grow as well.”
The popularity of hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador is largely a product of the sports profile on television and in media, Coombs said. With the World Cup set to draw plenty of attention nationally between now and 2026, he expects soccer’s profile will rise.
“I think you’ll see numbers increase, and I think players, coaches and volunteers will become more in tune to it also,” Coombs said.
In Bay Roberts, Bartlett has witnessed a lot of growth when it comes to local interest. The program started in 2006 in North River. For the current season, there was a noticeable increase in registration at the lowest levels, such that the Lightning had to stop taking them at the under-eight, under-six and under-four levels.
“We just don’t have the capacity to handle it anymore right now with the younger ages,” said Bartlett, who attributes this in part to strong word of mouth about the program.
Coombs also believes the national men’s program is going to see some improvement in the years leading up to the big event with the recent addition of John Herdman as the team’s coach. Herdman has done well guiding the women’s program prior to taking over the men’s team. Nothing has been finalized for sure, but with the number of teams expanding from 32 to 48 for the 2026 World Cup, it’s expected Canada will receive an automatic berth. That would mark the country’s second appearance ever in the event.