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Ben Knight On The Stadium

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T.O.'s soccer dreams tied to a sinking ship?


There's a long way to go - and lots of money to find - but Toronto's new soccer stadium is becoming a reality.

If the Canadian Soccer Association's dream of a new 30,000-seat stadium in Toronto comes true, fans alighting at the drab, windy Exhibition GO train station will be able to see right into the facility's intimate, beautiful bowl.

The visual draw will be powerful, indeed.

The stadium drawings just unveiled by the CSA are really quite beautiful. Toronto's proposed new soccer palace is simple in design, with four banks of seats six metres from the touchlines, and broad entrance concourses at all four corners. Fans will be right on top of the action, and those in the covered, double-deck west grandstand will enjoy the breathtaking view of the city skyline fondly remembered by anyone who actually admits to having fond memories of dear old Exhibition Stadium.

The design and drawings are the end result of over half a million dollars lobbed at the CSA by FIFA following the final of last year's Women's Under-19 World Cup, which mesmerized 50,000 delighted spectators at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

FIELD OF DREAMS: Toronto's proposed new soccer stadium.

The stadium plan was unveiled at a special press conference on the Ex grounds. On hand to sing its praises were architects, consultants, number crunchers, money men, FIFA VP and CONCACAF head Jack Warner, and CSA president Andy Sharpe. It was Sharpe, of course, who refocused this nation's soccer dreams on this stadium and off the reality-challenged CUSL project after taking over the reins a year ago.

So the important question now is - how reality-challenged is this stadium?

The press conference coincided with CSA's formal pitch to the Ontario government for just over $30 million in funding. An identical pitch will be made to Ottawa. Toronto City Hall will be asked to pony up the rest. The plan may be good value, by international stadium standards, but that is one heck of a lot of public money.

So heads were turning in the conference hall for any sign of interested corporate chequebooks. None were readily visible. Indeed, there were no obvious government reps in the building, either. Ah, but international sports marketing bigwigs IMG have been on board since the moment FIFA's cheque cleared. While no specifics were revealed, the assembled scribes were assured that corporate interest is strong, and that a naming rights sponsor has, in fact, been found.

Good. But possibly the most important partner this stadium plan needs was nowhere to be seen. Where, oh where, were the Toronto Argonauts?

A quick click over to our CFL page will answer some of that question. The Boatmen have drifted into dangerous waters, financially, and are on the verge of sinking. Owner Sherwood Schwarz, who must be considered a significant part of the problem by even his most optimistic defenders, has lost millions in the past three years, and the banks and the league have had enough.

On rare occasions when any part of the Good Ship Argo actually appears above the surface, the team has made it clear it wants a new stadium, preferably something along the lines of Molson Stadium in Montreal, where the once-moribund, once-extinct Montreal Alouettes have been so wonderfully reborn. The Toronto stadium plan, with end-zone seats that can roll back to make way for CFL end zones, has taken all this into account.

But can the project survive without the Argos?

"This is a state-of-the-art design that meets exactly - exactly! - what the Argonauts are looking for," CSA official Kevan Pipe answered. "There have been extensive meetings between members of our design team and CFL technicians. This facility has been designed completely with all the needs of all different user groups taken into account. So there is no reason for the Argonauts not to be part of this."

Okay, but can the project survive without the Argos?

"The position of the Argos is that they are looking for a new place to play," Pipe added "There is a gap in the infrastructure of this city. We need to fill that gap. We are not comfortable with staying in 3,000-seat facilities."

I'm right there with you, but can the project survive without the Argos?

"We are moving forward," Pipe said, quite emphatically, I thought. "We have not done all this work to allow a third party to hold us back. We have read the comments of the Argonauts. We have noted that they want to be in a new facility, and we invite them to be a stakeholder in this facility."

So what do we know? This is a lovely stadium. IMG is pulling hard to land corporate partnerships. FIFA is squarely behind the project. Jack Warner has publicly promised to back Toronto's bid for the 2007 Under-20 World Youth Championships, the number-two FIFA bun feed, second only to the World Cup itself.

All these are good things.

The Argo situation remains worrying, however. Certainly, government number crunchers at all three levels are going to want a square answer to that question, preferably with a large, large cheque attached. But the CSA has come a long way in a short time, and there is some real momentum here - something that was sadly lacking during the CUSL days/daze.

We have real progress, people, and the CSA and FIFA are to be commended. Let's hope corporate Canada loves it, and it becomes a vibrant part of this nation's sporting future. Presumably, there will continue to be a Toronto Argonauts football team. Presumably, better ownership is on the horizon.

The CSA has rolled out as red a carpet as the Argos are ever likely to see. Let's hope they find a way to stroll down it, and this wonderful, much-needed stadium dream becomes reality. Onward!


"As soon as you're born you start dying,

So you might as well have a good time."

Sheep Go To Heaven - Cake

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"Where, oh where, were the Toronto Argonauts"

That's the question that has been troubling me since the announcement. The ONLY way this works is with the Argo's on board. Although, I've always wondered why they didn’t try and hook up with the Hamilton Commonwealth games bid....

I HATE the fact I had to sign up for this forum. HATE. HATE. HATE.

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