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  • Canada's soccer opponents still playing the "multicultural" card


    Unfortunately, much of my job here at CSN involves reading a lot of Bruce Dowbiggin. You see, Bruce does the sports media overview thing for the Globe and Mail, but he’s also part of the McCown/Perkins axis of footy ignorance, so any time he writes about soccer his perspective tends to veer wildly off the mark.

    This past week has seen a few instances. First we had his “put up or shut up” piece, arguing that unless the introduction of the Whitecaps finally thrusts soccer into the Canadian sporting mainstream, the sport should just finally “shut up” (how exactly does an entire sport shut up by the way? Especially one badly outpacing hockey in the youth participation department?).


    More recently we got the “fewer Canadians care about soccer than curling,” based entirely on the TV ratings for the Whitecaps TFC Major League Soccer game (apparently Canada’s interest in soccer can only be gauged by MLS ratings—no mention of the Champions League or the combined European domestic fixture ratings, properties eagerly fought over by all the major Canadian sports networks).

    Bruce weaves in all the soccer stereotypes, but there’s a particularly grating one I’d like to speak to: the idea that soccer in Canada is “multicultural.”

    Quote the Dowbiggin:

    “For its huge participant base and the alleged grooviness of soccer in a country that fetishizes multiculturalism, we’ve had 40 years for the sport to move into mainstream and it hasn’t happened. As one simple example, TSN chose British play-by-play announcer Luke Wileman. Why, in all the years of Canadian soccer, has no young person emerged as the definitive TSN voice of the game in Canada?”

    Um, does Jason de Vos not count?

    Anyway, my question is this—does Bruce take “multicultural” to mean Scottish ex-pats, second generation Italian and Portuguese immigrants, French Canadian little league players, descendants of United Empire Loyalists who truck down from all sorts of small towns across southern Ontario to watch TFC, Asian grandfathers, East Indian kids, aboriginal Canadians? Because that’s pretty much Canada from where I’m sitting.

    Look, a lot of soccer people love hockey. And a lot of hockey people love basketball. And a lot of basketball people love baseball. And all of them hail from every single cultural background imaginable. And yet to this day, we hear about how soccer is “multicultural” while hockey is purelaine Canadienne, despite the fact Canada has one of the oldest football associations in the world, we won an Olympic Gold medal in association football in 1904, took a team of Canadian born players in 1888 and matched the records of the best clubs in England and Scotland, all while ice hockey was still putting on its jammies.

    So why does this “multiculti soccer” meme persist? Probably because for the old sports writing establishment—and to be fair, large sections of mainstream media as a whole—interest in a “foreign” sport (i.e. one where the elite leagues reside neither in Canada or the US) could only be driven by recent immigrants.

    This is total bullshit. Live soccer from Italy, Germany, Spain, and England is a staple of bars and homes across the country. The Champions League and the World Cup are major mainstream ratings successes. The task for TFC over the last five years, the Whitecaps now and the Impact next year was never to build a soccer base from scratch, but to attract interest from the mother lode: regular Canadian fans of European football.

    Soccer per se never struggled to break into the Canadian mainstream. You could still find European League One tables in the sports section of Dowbiggin’s own paper as far back as the 1920s. Just under thirty years ago, 35, 656 people attended Exhibition Stadium to watch a second-string Juventus side play the Toronto Blizzard. Elite clubs from across Europe regularly toured Canada for decades, long before the satellite feed era. Canadians have long loved the Beautiful Game. The struggle of both the NASL and the CSL after it was to create a homegrown, professional product that could build on that European interest.

    In light of this, four years of a sold out BMO Field despite a shit on-field product, 22,000 at Empire Field for opening day, and 258,000 Canadians tuning in to watch Canadian teams play in a league far removed from the elite centre of soccer power is a triumph, a sign of major progress, not the “shit or get off the pot” moment of Dowbiggin’s imagination. The point is Canada has long liked soccer, just not the poorly administrated, patchwork domestic version. This has nothing to do with soccer being “multicultural.” It has to do with the fact Canadians—like footballing neutrals around the world—generally prefer the European version. I accept not everyone likes footy, fine, but it’s high time its Canadian antagonists stop trying to balkanize it via the cultural diversity card.

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