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Ben Knight: Toronto Stadium, Take Two

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Toronto stadium column, take two

Our soccer columnist apologizes for last week's column, and takes another bash at it.

I kinda had a bad feeling about last week's column before I even finished writing it.

It was the last thing I had to do before taking off for a week's vacation, and that's a risky time to write if the story you're covering is in flux.

In this case, I was writing about the federal government's apparent decision to sink the better part of $20 million into the construction of a new Varsity Stadium, right smack dab in the middle of downtown Toronto. There was nothing confirmed at that point.

So, to my shame, as it turned out, I spent the first half of the column playing for yokes. I laid on the satire, repeatedly underscoring the point that there was little or no chance the Ontario government would ever ride this bandwagon, and that without them, it was immediately urgent the private sector get involved.

My gaffe radar was going off throughout, warning me that the CSA, in partnership with the Toronto Argonauts and the University of Toronto, might actually be getting somewhere this time. But I ignored the radar warnings. Canada's soccer press has been burned repeatedly in recent years. This time, I wanted to see it before I believed it.

No doubt, I knew I had overdone the satire. I even kind of apologized for it halfway through the piece.

I filed, packed up and hit the road for Lake Huron. Of course, inevitably, the feds came through. I picked up a newspaper in Stratford, and there it was - front page - included in the deal, eight million bucks from the province of Ontario.

I can just see myself two weeks from now, meeting and greeting soccer folk at the Canada-Belize World Cup qualifying game in Kingston. "Ben Knight from Sportsnet. I'm sorry... Ben Knight, Sportsnet.ca. I'm so sorry."

Well, I am sorry. My cynicism got ahead of the facts. Normally, I try to use cynicism only to make valid points. I certainly can't claim to have done that this time around.

(Bows head. Accepts all appropriate boos and catcalls.)


The main point of that ill-fated column, however, still has some merit, I think. I would still be much, much happier to see some serious corporate cash behind the new building.

The government funding, you see, has a significant string attached. The CSA only gets it if Canada wins the right to host the 2007 FIFA Under-20 championship. That decision will be made this October, so we really don't know where we are right now.

Last July, when the CSA first unveiled its Toronto stadium blueprints, CONCACAF head man Jack Warner made a very public promise to throw all his influence behind the Canadian bid as soon as the stadium got the go-ahead. Warner is also a vice-president of FIFA, so the man has some considerable influence. But he lives in an extremely political world, and who knows how the direction of the political winds may have changed over the past ten months?

The Toronto Argonauts are committed to covering the stadium's operating costs, and the U of T philanthropy machine is ready to turn on the money hose. The government money should be enough to make the new stadium real - as long as that 2007 bid goes gold.

No money, at this point, from the city - or from the private sector.

I still want to know whatever happened to IMG. The sports marketing megafirm was said to be lining up corporate money back in July, but they have been completely absent - significantly, I think - from all the stadium announcements that came down in the past week.

The corporate world, I fear, has crunched the numbers and decided there just aren't enough available events to make a 25,000-seat stadium in Toronto fly. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment said as much just a few weeks ago, when it walked away from the project after kicking the tires and doing a month or so of test drives.

In that light, a government/Argos/university tag team makes all kinds of sense. As a university athletic facility, the building will not solely be a commercial venture. That's got to remove some of the economic pressure.

But if the Argonauts are paying the operating bills, New Varsity will - effectively - be their building. The field, whether grass or field turf, will be theirs to shred and tear up any way they like. Beyond that, we soccer fans also need to remember that the university really wasn't a very good friend to soccer the past couple of decades. Their priorities were hard to pin down from outside, but soccer always had to conform to whatever they were at any given time.

And yet, this is ultimately the CSA stadium plan, even if it took the arrival of the Argonauts to turn it - apparently - into reality.

So, buddy, can you spare $20 million? Is there a major corporation out there that wants to partner with the CSA, and raise 'The Beautiful Game' a little higher up the New Varsity Stadium pecking order?

Perhaps I'm being overly cautious, and all these concerns will amount to as much as - well - last week's column.

I'm just saying, 'this ain't a done deal yet, and soccer will very likely have problems with this new building - assuming that it does, in fact, get built.'

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