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Ben Knight: Field of Nightmares

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Field of nightmares

Toronto's on-again, off-again soccer stadium is off. Again.

As most of you probably know by now, the University of Toronto has pulled the plug on New Varsity Stadium. Citing fears over the rising cost of the project, Canada's largest academic institution has declined the kind invitation of the Canadian Soccer Association and the Toronto Argonauts to fund between $45-$65-million of the now $100-million project.

And as much as I never cared much for the U of T (I practically handed my degree back when they gave it to me), it's almost reassuring to hear a clear, clean voice of sanity ring out in this increasingly silly stadium debate.

Ever since the CSA unveiled the blueprints a year ago July, I've been wondering where the big corporate money is. The original plan called for the stadium to be entirely funded by the public purse. We were assured a major corporation was waiting in the wings to lend its name -- and financial clout -- to the new home of Canadian soccer and football. But we never got a name.

This summer, I fired off another couple of columns, underscoring again the need for private money. That got me a chummy phone call from CSA honcho Kevan Pipe (We've never been chums, by the by). He assured me in warm, treacle-like tones that, from a business point of view -- "I'm a businessman, not a politician," he glowed -- all with the stadium was well.

Shortly thereafter, FIFA made a surprising early announcement that the 2007 World Youth Soccer Championship would be awarded to Canada, which turned on the money tap to the tune of $35-million from Ottawa and Queen's Park.

All eyes then shifted to the university, and things got very, very quiet.

U of T officials say they might have picked up the balance of the $80-million stadium they were first presented with, but the true cost has already risen by at least 20 per cent, and it makes no sense for them to continue. Expect the school to come up with a stripped-down stadium plan, 5,000 seats or thereabouts, that will better suit its needs and budget.

So, once again, the CSA and the Argos have been dumped by the side of the road, and are looking to hitch a ride on somebody's -- anybody's -- Brinks truck.

Is the project dead? Probably not. The Argos are very determined to escape SkyDome, and their new owners -- being actual businessmen -- may yet have enough clout to round up some private money to keep their stadium dream alive (or at least on life support). Toronto Mayor David Miller can probably expect a phone call from the CSA, because his is the only level of government not yet committed.

So once again, the need for corporate money is big. But its total absence is, I fear, significant. Sorry to say it, soccer fans, but I truly believe that if any private interest thought this building was a good business deal, we wouldn't be in this spot right now. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment did their due diligence, and then their interest went due south.

Right from the beginning, I've never seen evidence there are enough events out there to make a 25,000-seat stadium in Toronto work. Apparently, and unanimously, the corporate world agrees. Approaching the U of T was an elegant solution, but the deal got crunched by its own numbers. The CSA is getting ditched more often than ex-Germany and Roma manager Rudi Voller switches teams.

And Canadian soccer fans have absolutely nothing to show for it.

... And speaking of Rudi Voller: Who, exactly, does this yoyo think he is? Okay, Germany had a dreadful Euro '04 under his stewardship, and no one was surprised when he resigned before the accumulated stink had wafted out to sea.

Worked out great for everyone, because Germany got a new direction and Voller immediately stepped into a lucrative, fascinating job as manager of Roma.

Except he got off to a ghastly start, and now he's quit that job, too.

Now, we've all heard of -- or been in -- romantic rebound relationships. Your heart says "yes," but a couple of days later your heads wires in with a force-five "what the heck are you doing?"

Well, folks, I think we just saw a soccer manager on the rebound. Yes, Roma is giving up way too many goals and the fans aren't happy. But Roma fans are almost always unhappy, and it sure isn't Voller's fault that he was forced to forfeit a Champions League game because some dribbling brain cramp of a "fan" threw a dangerous object that hit a referee in the head.

I just hope Voller dropped his entire salary in Rome's world-famous Trevi Fountain before he left. Now that would be a party -- and likely the only thing Roma fans will have to celebrate this season.

... And speaking of throwing things at referees: The decision to slap a 0-3 walkover loss on AS Roma after the ref was socked with a missile may create more problems than it solves. I understand Roma is being punished for poor crowd control. But what if the moron who did the devious deed wasn't really a Roma fan?

Put it like this: Canada was clearly cheated of a World Cup qualifying win in Edmonton against Honduras. Canada is playing the return leg in Tegucigalpa on October 9. What's to stop a sufficiently Central American-looking Canada fan from putting on blue-and-white striped Honduras look-alike jersey (FC Porto? Sheffield Wednesday? North Melbourne Kangaroos?) and winging one off the ref's coconut?

Under the prevailing wisdom, Honduras gets punished and we get the win.

I am absolutely not advocating violence or anarchy here. I'm just pointing out this sad, sorry situation is actually possible -- and it shouldn't be.

Ben Knight writes about soccer and lacrosse regularly on Sportsnet.ca.

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Unfortunately for Ben his article looks extremely silly next to the facts that have come to light - which is this isn't a financial decision at all. Perhaps he wasn't aware that fear of hoolinagism and the fact that there are no more public executions in Toronto are the arguments and amongst the real reasons being put forward by U of T for not wanting this stadium - if he was I'm sure he wouldn't be so quick to agree with them.

I also don't understand why Ben is pointing out that "any private interest thought this building was a good business deal, we wouldn't be in this spot right now" as though this is some revelation we've know that for years. That's why this stadium is so dependant upon the government cash that comes with the U20 tournament. Even the alleged MLS investor's investment was contingent on a stadium being built.

And I have to admit to being a bit confused that the same person who has correctly argued that Toronto needs and should have an MLS team would think that there aren't enough events to make use of 25,000 seat stadium that can be used by soccer & football, for starters.

Sorry Ben if you're reading this to completely discredit your article, but hey, it's not the first I've done it. :)

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