Friday, January 30, 2009

Canadian Soccer Supporters Need to Recruit

Happier Times with the Canadian National Men's Team

A while ago AMSL asked the question: what the hell is actually wrong with the Canadian Soccer Association? Since then I've read blog after blog after blog, finding only a vague nebula of complaints about 'provincial interests' and 'incompetent management' and 'lack of funding.' The only point in common seems to be the most obvious: the CSA isn't equipped for the requirements of the modern international game.

This past Thursday, Canadian midfielder and Deportivo Del Coruna player Julian De Guzman let his feelings about the CSA be known: "It feels like we're taking a step backwards. That's the feeling in the whole association. They lack knowledge about the present game." The CSA of course has kept mum on De Guzman's comments, while the Canadian soccer community has either shown outright support or lukewarm admonishment for whom many think is currently Canada's best player.

De Guzman certainly has a point. Canada may have only one or two pre-tournament friendlies before participating in the CONCACAF Gold Cup this July, and our dismal performance in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers would have been a national embarassment had any major media outlets bothered to give it substantive coverage.

But we've been here before, and it goes something like this: player reams out the CSA (like Jim Brennan did last year), blogs go all a twitter about how the CSA needs to be restructured, nothing gets done because national team success is not a priority for the CSA (something they've indirectly acknowledged time and time again), blogs equivocate, mumble something about 'restructuring,' and the 'Crawford Report,' followed by dead air until the next player outburst.

The situation is a bit of a Catch-22. Some Canadian soccer fans acknowledge there needs to be wider interest in Canada in soccer, not as a participatory game but as a serious national sport, before real change can happen. Certainly any restructuring of the CSA will not be successful without increased government funding, and no funding will come without political pressure. So how do you make a poorly-performing national team popular nation-wide? Part of the answer to my mind is working to recruit football fans who currently know or care little of Canadian soccer.

The irony is hardcore fans of Canadian soccer, usually the noisiest of the anti-CSA crowd, aren't helping. There is a widespread assumption among soccer fans in Canada that both the government and the nation should have a de facto, a priori interest in the Canadian game, regardless of whether soccer has any popular support. Others look to Toronto FC's success as a sign that change is on its way. Maybe, but the fact is many Toronto FC fans probably couldn't name even three of Canada's starting eleven and likely don't even know what CSA stands for, although they could name the entire squad for Man United, or Real Madrid, or Celtic. They feel, quite rightly, that Canadian national soccer culture is insular and boring.

Yet these are the ones who need to be recruited to the cause of the Canadian national team, the European and South American club supporters, the infamous immigrants who give Canadian soccer fans grief by waving foreign flags in Canadian stadiums, the kids who grew up watching Serie A and La Liga and the Copa Libertadores. I don't know how this happens exactly, but I do know that Toronto FC is an extremely valuable tool, a bridge between these two sometimes antagonistic football cultures. I'm not convinced it's been used effectively by those who rant and rail against the mismanagement of our national team.

A few scattered, illegible black shirts don't count.


Justin T Wood said...

Hrm. This is very true. I think lots of this comes down to people's identities. As Canadians, many of us identify ourselves with our home country before Canada. In fact many immigrants simply don't like being labeled as "Canadian".

How can we get Italian Canadians, Croatian Canadians and Irish Canadians to put down their home flags and start rallying behind the Canadian national team come World Cup 10'?.

Colin Smith said...

How can we get Italian Canadians, Croatian Canadians and Irish Canadians to put down their home flags and start rallying behind the Canadian national team come World Cup 10'?

You can't and should not even try. And I think you mean World Cup '14...

The key is to get those hyphenized Canadians to support their home nations AND support Canada. Which is, in theory, relatively easy. Those supporters (who already know a bit about the game) want to see a good product. If our national team wasn't consistently falling in the piss-poor to mediocre range, they would support them. I don't think identity is the biggest issue here.

The key, as Richard suggests, is getting people who don't have any real soccer background involved and engaged in the game as was done in America through WC94 and MLS.
Two things the CSA can do:
Create new fans of the game
Make the product better

This will increase the support coming from both directions.