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Stinson: Thanks to donor, team trains year round


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Cashing In; Thanks to a private donor, Canada's national women's team is training year round -- now, if they could only afford to play more games

Dan Stinson

Vancouver Sun

1097 words

22 June 2007

Vancouver Sun




Copyright © 2007 Vancouver Sun

Thanks to Greg Kerfoot, the road to the Women's World Cup soccer tournament was cleared of some traditional obstacles for Canada's national team during the first six months of this year. But there are limits to the generosity of the Vancouver Whitecaps' owner.

From the fast lane of an unprecedented, Kerfoot-financed residency program, the national side is now riding a slow boat to China.

Typically without any personal drum-beating, the media-shy Kerfoot launched a Vancouver-based residency program in January by providing Canada's players with no-charge housing accommodations in a False Creek-area condominium complex that he owns.

Reports at the time were that the reclusive former software mogul had invested about $1 million, both directly and indirectly, to help fund women's national team operations in preparation for the Sept. 10-30 global championship in China.

"So far this year, it's been fantastic," national team head coach Even Pellerud says of the residency program. "Our pool of players [for the World Cup] has been together in Vancouver since Jan. 15, and they have basically trained together as a team every single day, with the occasional small break. The camp started with a general high-fitness priority in the winter months and has now progressed to more specific game-fitness priorities. The whole culture of Canadian women's national team soccer has changed, from summer months recreational league thinking to year-round international thinking."

That's the good news. The flip side of the team's preparations for the World Cup is the Canadian Soccer Association's claim that it cannot afford to finance international exhibition games for the side beyond next month's Pan-American Games women's soccer tournament in Rio de Janeiro, where Canada is slated to play a minimum of five matches against still-unknown opponents, and a sixth game if it qualifies for the championship final.

According to CSA vice-president Victor Montagliani, the women's World Cup team was allotted about $650,000 from the association's total national teams budget of $2.3 million for 2007 -- and most of those funds have already been spent on five international 'A' exhibition games since Canada qualified for the World Cup last November in the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament.

Since the Gold Cup final game last Nov. 26 against the U.S. -- the Americans prevailed 2-1 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. -- Canada has played friendly matches against host China and New Zealand, and one game against the U.S. national team in Frisco, Tex.

"All national team programs are severely underfunded," says Burnaby native Montagliani. "That includes programs from the under-15 level to the senior teams, both men's and women's. It's a combined total of 10 to 12 teams, depending on the year and the teams' activities during that year."

Montagliani says the worst case of CSA underfunding this year relates to the national under-20 women's team, which has a zero budget in a non-competitive international year, and no coach in charge of the side. Veteran under-20 team head coach Ian Bridge of Victoria has been reassigned as an assistant coach with the women's senior national team.

Canada reached an all-time high of No. 9 in the FIFA women's world rankings this week, but the lack of funding will force the team to play a series of Greater Vancouver-area exhibition games against local men's amateur sides following the Pan-Am Games tournament.

Drawn into Group C in the 16-team Women's World Cup, Canada kicks off its schedule Sept. 12 against No. 4-ranked Norway in Hangzhou, then faces No. 47-ranked Ghana on Sept. 15, also in Hangzhou, and winds up its group slate Sept. 19 against No. 15-ranked Australia at Chengdu.

The top two teams in each of the four groups advance to the tournament's quarter-final playoff stage.

While appreciating the "club-side atmosphere" of the residency program, veteran striker and team captain Christine Sinclair would like to see Canada play exhibition games against Scandanavian and African teams in preparation for the World Cup.

"We've played New Zealand, and beaten them twice [3-0 and 5-0], and that will help us prepare to play Australia in the World Cup," says the 24-year-old Burnaby native, Canada's career scoring leader with 72 goals in 93 games. "But we need to prepare properly for our games against Norway and Ghana. The feeling in our team is that the CSA is providing more funding to the senior men's national team this year than the women's team. It's frustrating. We want the men's team to do well, but it seems like their team is being pushed ahead and supported at our expense."

Not so, according to Montagliani.

"The women's team budget is only marginally less than the men's team budget this year," says Montagliani, adding the men's side won't play an international game in 2007 after a Sept. 12 exhibition match against Costa Rica in Toronto. "The CSA started this year with a budget shortfall of 10 per cent for all national team operations, excluding staff salaries, due to the dramatically rising costs of running the programs."

Montagliani says the CSA draws operating revenue from three main sources -- player membership registration fees, corporate sponsors and federal government grants -- and that the association needs to re-focus on how those funds are distributed.

"For too long, we've tried to be all things to all people," says Montagliani. "We can't keep going back, year after year, to our membership, corporate sponsors and the federal government with cap in hand. We need to address priorities on how the majority of our revenue is distributed, and I strongly suspect that will be in the direction of the most successful national team programs.

"However, it's a catch-22 situation. National teams need funding to have a chance at being successful. But as our budget now stands, we've got to make some prioritized choices."


Photo: Layne Murdoch, Getty Images / Canada's Christine Sinclair dribbles up field against American Carli Lloyd, during a May 12 friendly in Texas. Sinclair says Canada needs more exhibition games in advance of the World Cup. ;

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