Cavalry FC aims to attract a World Cup team for base camp in Calgary

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The 2026 FIFA World Cup doesn’t include Calgary on its schedule.

But Spruce Meadows and Cavalry FC ownership hopes to change that.

Cavalry FC, under the leadership of CEO Linda Southern Heathcott, has designs on drawing one of the 48 participating national teams to the city for training ahead of the world-renowned event.

Working alongside club president Ian Allison and GM/head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr., they want to step further onto the global football stage.

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“It’s a dream,” admitted Allison, the president/COO of Cavalry FC. “We always felt that if you look at our Spruce Meadows show-jumping model, where we wanted to provide an opportunity for Canadians but also to attract the best in the world whether to compete or train, why can’t you look at that and put soccer into that equation, as well?

“So I’ll quote our founder, Ron Southern … ‘Why wouldn’t we look at this opportunity and dream big?’ ”

The footie club is actually on the national stage for Father’s Day weekend, as Cavalry (2W-6D-1L) takes on host Vancouver FC (4-2-3) in a neutral-site match Sunday at Kelowna’s Apple Bowl (3 p.m., OneSoccer,

It’s the inaugural game of the ‘CPL On Tour’ series — a new initiative launched by Canada’s top flight of men’s professional soccer — that will see the staging of competitive games at non-CPL centres across the country, as the league continues its mission to connect with fans of ‘The Beautiful Game’ from coast to coast and expand into new communities.

But that’s not stopping the idea of beautiful World Cup action for Calgary.

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That’s a whole new level of footie, even if it’s just training.

“In every World Cup cycle, all of the qualified nations usually come to that geographic region well in advance to prepare for the World Cup,” Allison said. “And World Cup 2026 happens to have 45 nations plus three nations, which makes it an interesting scenario for us.

“Part of our long-term plan and strategy, as we continue to build facilities and opportunities and the whole campus for both Spruce Meadows and Cavalry, has been to envision the ability to host a base camp in 2026.”

Cavalry FC
Cavalry FC’s William Akio (left) and Goteh Ntignee do backflips following Akio’s second-half goal against Forge FC on ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. Photo by Jim Wells /Postmedia

Imagine Germany’s entry — with its 200-plus accredited media members in tow — calling Calgary home for weeks at a time in the lead-up to the summer-time global gala, hosted by Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Or how about Italy’s team in town, bringing with it scores of passionate fans from all over.

Or France? Mon Dieu!

“There are certain requirements that have to be met, including working with and receiving endorsement from both the City of Calgary and the County of Foothills,” Allison said. “And many of them we meet — we have a grass pitch, we have proximity to international air links …

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“There are others that also make us very, very attractive to some potential qualified nations — altitude, a certain degree of privacy in the nature of the Spruce Meadows campus and the window that is generally the beginning of May until the middle of June.

“We have a reasonably good climate that time of year to allow teams to come here and train, where they’re not encountering exhaustion and heat and dehydration and all those kinds of things.”

What the longtime exec and Spruce Meadows also add to such a proposal is the intangible of decades-long experience with moving horses and athletes in and out of the city and to the facility, as well as the operations staff that come with them.

They are strong and long in dealing with logistics and an international customer base.

“By all means,” agreed Allison. “We have a long-term working relationship with the Canadian Border Services and with YYC and the airport authority, and those elements all work part and parcel.

“There are a few boxes to tick that are rather obvious — from ice tubs to showers to locker rooms and all those other things. And then there are the other things, like proximal bus parking for players.

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“But our campus lends itself to be as secure as open as we want it to be depending on the nature of the customer we’re working with.”

The price-tag and revenue gained for such a venture?

Allison says that remains to be seen, with far too many aspects of the World Cup yet to be determined.

“Like everything, it’s having a full understanding of the total scope,” Allison said. “As we’ve seen over the last five decades here, the ownership of Spruce Meadows — the Southern family — is keen on investing in things that make this community better and the sporting community better. So we wouldn’t shy away from required investment — if some was needed — or renovations and upgrades because it’s a once-in-a-decade’s-long potential opportunity.

“I think it would carry over to help ‘The Beautiful Game’ from coast to coast to coast. It’s no secret — not only in this city but in this region and in this country — that any time you can improve training facilities and opportunities for young athletes — no matter what the sport is — it’s a welcome addition.

“And then the other key is, as we’ve seen with CODA as an example, you then have to maintain them and keep them going. And this is why the Olympic Oval is still the top place in the world but other legacy facilities don’t continue to go forward. So if there’s investment required, investment would be made.”

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Calgary not in FIFA brochure

On Wednesday, FIFA has released the first edition of the online Team Base Camp brochure for 2026, comprising a list of locations where the 48 participating teams may opt to establish their ‘homes away from home’ — the hub from where they will travel to their first three matches and where players, staff and officials will spend the majority of their time during the group stage of the tournament.

The initial edition of the brochure showcases two-dozen high-grade locations — all but five in the U.S.

Calgary is not included, but FIFA is accepting proposals into 2025 and has had preliminary conversations with Cavalry ownership.

“I won’t be naive enough to think that there’s probably 20 or more NCAA complexes in the United States, that also meet the requirements,” Allison said. “But by the same vein, will every country want to be based out of the United States?

“And when you look at particularly the venues that are hosting games in western North America, our facility, our city and our air connections all make things pretty attractive through my eye — but I am biased.”

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And proud, as he should be, since soccer business at Spruce Meadows has come a long way in the six years — with regards to infrastructure, media, facilities, meeting rooms, sports science and other aspects — since Cavalry was established.

“There are many elements around the Spruce Meadows season — our legacy sport and business — as well as the CPL business,” added Allison. “I’ve been working with the league and people who are kind of experienced in these matters to determine what may or may not be possible in terms of being a base camp, and we’re putting together a project to see if we might be able to do it to then also enhance our own facilities here as a great legacy going forward for generations to come and for the game in this country.

“So yeah, I’m cautiously optimistic we can put together a good proposal. But you know … all of that stuff, you don’t know until you know. It’s sort of like scheduling, when you’ve got to work through your national federation and FIFA and then the regions’ federations, But once we know also all of the teams that are qualified, we’ll be able to laser-focus things a little better.”

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