This summer Germany will host the most exciting of sporting events, and the whole world will be wrapped up in all the action of the soccer World Cup. For a month, Canadians will neglect their significant others to watch games, discuss Beckham's latest hair style and get caught up in the upsets, amazing goals and new superstars that every World Cup produces.
Of course, there's just one problem: Canada won't be playing in Germany. Instead, most Canucks will look to their hyphenated-heritage to determine who they will cheer for. From Argentinean-Canadians to Ukrainian-Canadians, we'll support the country we feel connected to by birth, family ties or ancestry. What a shame it is that Canadians won't be able to cheer on our own national soccer team.
The Canadian men's team has not made it into the World Cup since 1985 in Mexico. Compared to the women's side, the men have had little success on the international stage. However, as with many female sports, women's soccer doesn't seem to capture the same attention as the men's game. After all, when was the last time you harassed Team Canada's Taryn Swiatek for an autograph after a Dinos game? Not to say women's soccer players don't have a lot of skill and passion, but in terms of speed, strength and flowing play, the men's game simply makes for better viewing.
So what can be done to get the men's team back into the world's biggest sporting event? What Canada must do is follow the example of the Socceroos, Australia's national team, who will be going to their first World Cup since the 1973 tournament--also held in Germany.
The sport in both Canada and Australia bears close resemblance. Soccer is the top participatory sport in Canada and the second in Australia after swimming. However, in both countries soccer is only a minor professional team sport--behind hockey and football in Canada and rugby, cricket and Aussie Rules football in Australia. And just like the top Australian players, many of Canada's best play for European squads. In both countries soccer is often seen as a sport for immigrants and is maligned as being "boring" or "a sissy sport."
So how did those Antipodeans show up their critics and qualify for the World Cup? A lot of the credit can be given to their professional domestic league which has become a huge success Down Under in the last few years. With an average 11,000 spectators attending A-League matches, the Aussies have developed a passion for the game and the belief that they deserve to play among the world's best nations.
Hopefully, with the expansion of Major League Soccer into Toronto in 2007, Canadians will develop the belief that our country is a soccer nation. We're still a long way from the crowd of 82,000 who willed the Socceroos onto victory in their last play-off match against Uruguay in Sydney, but the proposed 20,000-seat soccer stadium in Toronto could be the birthplace of Canada's next World Cup squad.