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  • Keep sailing, Argos!


    Years back, my memory recalls an incident in a prominent Northern Ontario city I’m just about certain was Sault Ste. Marie.

    A major curling event was scheduled, and curling ice installed in the big arena. The local junior hockey team – displaced for two weeks by the intricate subtleties of high-level rock-throwing – were departing on an extended road trip.

    But before they left, some of the players thought it would be amusing fun to don their blades, and do some hard skating drills on the curling ice.


    The ice was destroyed. The event nearly had to be cancelled. Curlers the world over reacted in horror. Hockey folk didn’t much get what all the fuss was about.

    And here we are again, perhaps – as one more time the Toronto Argonauts seek to cast their carnivorous cleats in the general direction of BMO Field.

    Just as curling ice needs to be smooth, even and free of gouging ruts, so too does soccer grass require protection from the grinding, concentrated destruction of gridiron football. What is the point of building a real soccer stadium, and finally being allowed to install truly good grass, if the surface is destroyed nine or more times a year by a brutal, gouging, grinding rival game?

    Soccer fans are already reacting in horror. The problem is getting CFL fans – and local politicians – to care.

    For what it’s worth, though, I don’t get the sense the Argo invasion is actually all that serious a threat this time around.

    The team is losing games and money at an appalling clip. We’ve recently learned that their owners are being financially propped up by the owner of the British Columbia Lions – and have been since they arrived.

    The Argos famously bailed out of two earlier, abandoned Toronto soccer stadium plans, primarily using Canada’s hosting of the FIFA Under-20 men’s tournament in 2007 as leverage for a better rent deal at the Dome With Sky Formerly Known As SkyDome.

    Now, with the team up for sale, any and everything that could make the Boatmen seem more attractive is – once again – in play.

    But before we start getting the entire south-end support section of ravenous Toronto FC fans stomping and chanting at every single Toronto City Council meeting throughout 2010, let’s take a collective deep breath, and consider … the obstacles.

    - The playing surface at BMO Field is 75 yards wide. That’s sufficient for the CFL, although it leaves next to nothing for the huge bench areas most gridiron teams require.

    - BMO’s field is 115 yards, end-to-end. A CFL field is a whopping 150 yards long. Big end-zones are essential in the pass-heavy three-down gridiron game. Even if they were shrunk to 15 yards – something the league has said it would grudgingly accept – we’re still 75 feet short of playable.

    - The field is already hemmed in tightly by grandstands on three sides, and a plan has been approved to add some permanent seating in the open north end.

    - Any lengthening of the playing surface would require the demolition of the south end, extension into and across Princes Boulevard, and the building of new – and movable – seating for several thousand people. That takes money, and …

    - There’s no money.

    - For the Argos to play at BMO Field in 2010, the fundamental rules of CFL football would have to be altered. Expanding the field and getting stadium capacity up to the current Argo level of along about 26,000 would take two full years, at least.

    - The three levels of government, having already paid the entire shot for the stadium’s construction, are unlikely to smile on this plan – especially given the hugely loud and vocal public opposition that will arise. Not only are TFC and Canada soccer fans loud, they are brilliantly organized. They will be heard.

    - About the only reason grass is being installed at BMO in the first place is that private money is paying for it. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment – owners of Toronto FC – are in an awkward position. They can’t really publicly oppose another team moving into a stadium which public money built for them. But the $5-million they are investing in the new turf certainly raises the bar higher than the financially battered Argonauts can comfortably leap.

    Far more likely, I think, is that the Argos are threatening to leave the ‘Dome in hopes that the ‘Dome owners – Rogers Communications – will buy the team. Possible, I suppose, but if I’m a landlord with a struggling tenant who’s managing to pay the rent, last thing I want to do is buy that business.

    But vigilance is always appropriate, and it’s not a bad time to work up some strategies for effective public opposition of any attempt to dock the Good Ship Argo at the pleasant port of BMO Field.

    This is crucial. If Canada is to have soccer – real soccer – it has to protect the grass at BMO Field. The park is finally free to become the true home of Canada’s national soccer teams, and the day isn’t far – I truly believe – when TFC will pass the Argos as Toronto’s fourth professional sports team.

    The Canadian Football League is both a sporting and cultural institution in Canada. Yesterday’s Grey Cup game was a blast. And did you know the CFL draws just about exactly the same average number of fans per game as the Spanish La Liga?

    But gridiron lines – and gridiron cleats – destroy both the atmosphere and artistry of the beautiful game. And to permit these atrocities for the benefit of a struggling, bankrupt franchise whose financial seizures have already dealt multiple setbacks to the Canadian soccer dream is simply not a reasonable option.

    The CFL does NOT belong at BMO Field. We’d all better start thinking of simple, effective ways to explain that to people.


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