Jump to content

Neil Davidson: U-20, Long Road to Canada


Winnipeg Fury

Recommended Posts

U-20 Cup, long road to Canada

By NEIL DAVIDSON

Soccer balls are staked on the artificial turf of BMO Field in Toronto, one of the venues hosting FIFA U20 World Cup matches, before the start of the tournament in this file photo. (CP PICTURE ARCHIVE/Nathan Denette)

TORONTO (CP) - News that Canada had won the right to host the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup came in a 3:30 a.m. phone call from FIFA headquarters in Zurich after a meeting of its Emergency Committee on Aug. 6, 2004.

But there were to be many more sleepless nights before FIFA's second-biggest tournament kicked off in Canada almost three years later.

The Canadian Soccer Association had no money to speak off. It was at the mercy of a series of fickle partners, who pulled the rug out on assorted stadium projects in Toronto.

Federal politics even entered into the mix, with CSA and FIFA officials monitoring Ottawa for a possible change of government that could turn off a multimillion-dollar funding faucet.

Getting the under-20 tournament was linked inextricably to building a stadium in Canada's largest city, which was in turn tied to winning an MLS franchise and finding it an owner.

It was a Rubik's Cube of a project that somehow Canadian soccer found a way to solve - with a lot of money and help from others.

"By far it became the most complicated and challenging project I'd certainly taken in my whole life," said Kevan Pipe, former chief operating officer of the Canadian Soccer Association.

"It was a totally all-encompassing, all-consuming affair for 4 1/2 years, from June 2002 until November 2006," he added in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Pipe has rarely spoken to the media since being fired in November after more than 20 years on the job. At the time, CSA president Colin Linford said the association was looking for "a new direction."

Linford, who was elected CSA president in May 2006, has sat on the dais at the U-20 tournament's major news conferences in recent days. But it was Pipe who started work back in 2002 on securing the event and did almost all the heavy lifting.

"This could not have been done, this could not have been achieved without Kevan's vision, his role and his input," Jack Warner, FIFA vice-president and chairman of the under-20 tournament organizing committee, said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"I merely was a collaborator. The initiative of this whole program, the idea and so on, was his. He worked tirelessly and in some ways he punished himself and his body to get it done.

"It's unfortunate that now it has been achieved, he's not here to enjoy the fruits of his labour as he should have been. But these things happen.

"But his role in this whole thing here was immaculate."

The germ of the idea for hosting the event came in June 2002 in the run-up to FIFA's inaugural women's under-19 tournament that year in Edmonton.

When it became clear that the event was going to be a success, the CSA set its sights on a new target.

"That's when we came up with the idea of following up with another international event, but this time trying to leave more of a direct legacy," said Pipe.

The tournament bid was to be linked with the construction of a national soccer stadium in Toronto, with an MLS franchise as the "anchor tenant" to help pay the bills.

It was the start of an octopus-like project that grew more tentacles as the months and years wore on.

On Aug. 31, 2002, the night before the women's final in Edmonton, the CSA hosted a dinner with Warner, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan and Secretary of State Paul Devillers among others. It was McLellan's birthday.

"We presented that concept that night and both president Blatter and vice-president Warner loved it and said 'Go for it. You've got as much backing as we can give you without being overly political,"' Pipe recalled.

The initial idea was the 2007 women's World Cup, but in 2003 the target switched to the 2007 U-20 World Cup. That's because FIFA moved the 2003 women's World Cup to the U.S. from China on an emergency basis because of the SARS epidemic, awarding China the 2007 tournament as a makeweight.

(Canada still has designs on the women's championship and plans to bid for the 2011 tournament. Blatter told a news conference Friday that the success of the under-20 event will only help that push, although competition will come from the likes of Australia, France, Germany and Peru.)

After spending the winter working on its plan, the CSA held an elaborate news conference at Exhibition Place in July 2003 to unveil plans for a $81.2-million, 30,000-seat stadium to be located a stone's throw away on the Toronto waterfront.

In many ways, it was smoke and mirrors. The CSA had no money.

The original plan called for three levels of government to contribute $72 million or 88 per cent of the funding for the stadium. The association coffers were bare, other than a $600,000 grant from FIFA which it used to come up with the stadium design.

Then CSA president Andy Sharpe warned: "If it doesn't happen now, you're never going to see a stadium in Toronto."

Pipe acknowledges today that the association "shot for the moon" with its initial stadium plan, knowing it could scale down if needed.

"It was really that press conference that got things going. We got the attention of a lot of people at the corporate sector, of government," he said.

The Toronto Argonauts, looking for a more intimate home than the cavernous Rogers Centre, took note. So did Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which began researching how soccer might be received in Toronto.

Soon after, the CSA was invited by Ottawa to present its plans. The provincial government was also soon interested. By May 2004, they were both on board, with Pipe negotiating his way through the red tape to access government infrastructure funding programs.

Pipe knew that the stadium needed an anchor tenant, to help pay its way in the future. At the end of 2003 and start of 2004, he began holding conversations with MLSE about getting involved in soccer.

Things were looking good, although there was that matter of a stadium to be built.

On Aug. 6, 2004, at a meeting of FIFA's Emergency Committee, the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup was awarded to Canada, providing that it built the stadium.

It was an unprecedented meeting in that the committee normally does not concern itself with hosting issues.

"I felt it had to be done, because at the time there were supposed to be elections in Canada ... I had to make some moves to make sure things were approved before this happened," Warner recalled in an interview.

Had he not gone the Emergency Committee route, it would have taken another four months before the host country was decided. "By this time, the elections would have taken place and no one knew what would have happened," Warner said.

Pipe got the word from Warner in Zurich via an early-morning phone call.

While the tournament and government money were falling into place, the stadium plan was soon on the move - and ultimately going south.

In September 2004, the University of Toronto pulled out, citing fears of rising costs. In May 2005, the Argos elected to withdraw as partners and stay at the Rogers Centre. Days later, York University stepped out of the picture.

When the Argos pulled out as partners, taking $20 million in proposed funding with them, Pipe went to MLSE president Richard Peddie again.

"We went to them and said 'Either we replace those dollars or the whole project comes crashing down, which means close up your file on MLS, which means we close up our file on the under-20s and there's no stadium to be built.' That's when Richard took it to his board of director and the board of directors approved it."

Despite all the obstacles, Pipe says he remained confident.

"I just refused to ever acknowledge the possibility of this thing going belly up when we had $35 million in our back pocket. Failure was simply not an option."

But not everyone believed him.

"We were under massive pressure to fold everything up," he recalled. "We had no support from most media organizations, we had no support from many many different sources."

Warner, a veteran in world soccer's wheelings and dealings, said he soothed any FIFA concerns by given his assurance that Canada would deliver.

Adding to the pressure was an 11th-hour bid from South Korea to take over the tournament. Pipe credits Warner for keeping FIFA on track.

The Koreans did not walk away empty-handed though - they got the world under-17 championship slated to start next month. Such is the horse-trading world of FIFA.

There was a brief flirtation with having the stadium in Downsview. But in the end, Pipe says it was a conversation with Toronto Mayor David Miller right after the York debacle that set the stadium back on track. The facility was going back to where the CSA had originally planned it to go and where Miller wanted it - Exhibition Place.

A city council vote Oct. 27, 2005, was a final hurdle, coming just days in advance of an MLS ultimatum to sort out the stadium issue.

"Once we had the city of Toronto commitment secured, we knew it was locked it," said Pipe.

But there was one final unexpected obstacle.

A motion of non-confidence introduced Nov. 24 by then-Tory leader Stephen Harper led to a change in power in Ottawa.

Pipe said it was "literally minutes" before that that the CSA got its letter from the federal government confirming its participation in the project.

"It was further ratified (by the newly elected Conservatives), but if we hadn't received that letter minutes before the end, we would have lost the whole project and would have had to start all over."

The stadium eventually became a more modest Cdn$62.9-million, 20,000-seat project with $27 million from the federal government, $8 million from Ontario and $9.9 million from the City of Toronto which also donated land, valued at about $10 million.

MLSE paid $10 million for the stadium naming rights and injected another $8 million cash. It also spent US$10 million on an MLS expansion franchise fee.

There was zero debt on the stadium.

"It was going to be built with cash or it wasn't going to be built at all," Pipe said.

Not everyone was happy with that enormous goodie basket from the various levels of government, none more so owners of the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps who have their own stadium plans.

Other simply disagreed with using taxpayer dollars to build a sports stadium.

Whatever your view, BMO Field is packing them in these days. And soccer is making headlines.

MLS is a hit. The league announced this week that the 2008 all-star game will be played in Toronto. Look for the 2009 MLS championship game to be hosted by Toronto.

The surge in ticket sales at the U-20 World Cup should lead to a healthy profit - and negotiations between the CSA and FIFA as to who gets what piece of it.

Pipe has a long list of people who made the stadium happen: Warner, Blatter and politicians McLellan, Miller, John Godfrey, Joe Pantalone and Jim Watson. He credits event director Peter Montopoli for his work on the tournament.

But he points to Warner in particular.

"None of this would have happened without the complete, committed support of Jack Warner, who really went - in my estimation - above and beyond in his support for Canada to get this thing done.

"It all boiled down to if we didn't build this stadium, this championship wouldn't have come. And none of this would have occurred without the political support that we had from Day 1 from Jack Warner."

In a bitter twist, Pipe was discarded by the CSA just months before the tournament he helped bring to Canada kicked off.

The former COO is not very good at patting himself on the back. But push him hard enough and he notes with satisfaction that when he left in November, the stadium was virtually finished, some 400,0000 U-20 tickets had been sold with the prospect of one million in ticket sales a possibility (since reached) and the fledgling MLS team was looking to be a success.

Pipe is more than comfortable with that legacy.

"Others will have to determine what they think it is, but certainly from my perspective that's what I've left the game," he said. "And I'm very very proud of that."

FIFA has not forgotten Pipe or what he did for the tournament. His presence may go unannounced but he will be their guest at Sunday's final between Argentina and the Czech Republic.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by Winnipeg Fury

The surge in ticket sales at the U-20 World Cup should lead to a healthy profit - and negotiations between the CSA and FIFA as to who gets what piece of it.

So no agreement to profit sharing was in place in the Contract to host.... yes the World of FIFA horse trading, 1.1 million tickets at a average of over ..15 dollars a ticket ..plus direct gifts from Ontario of one million and Federal at four million... plus sponsor revenue... and stadia kick backs on concession sales... a conservative 25 million revenue stream...to what expenses ?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yap Kevan did it all as I have said so many times.Him and I go back umpteen years and I remember the phone call, hey John the Dutch team is coming to Toronto ( 1994) would you please look after them. I had no idea what to do and wondered where there any specific guide lines. There were none. I was totally on my own. Yes I did get a name of the security chief of the Dutch.I called my best buddy in Holland Peter Legro,who was president of the largest charter airlines Transavia and yes he was flying the team to Canada.This contact helped since Peter spoke to Dick Advocaat and told him we were very close friends and it would be ok. To make a great story very short,Kevan seemed to have great trust in me and when the Dutch went home from the US ,their report said that the best time they had was in Toronto and they thanked Kevan and yours truly for this as well. Kevan has a great respect at the FIFA which I knew and I hope to meet him tomorrow at his palace.The third name Kevan's place that is. Thanks Kevan what a memory.

I am so glad to read this article by Neil,it is right on!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Talked to Kevan and I thanked him on behalf of all soccer fans in Canada. I told him that his contributions to soccer were second to none. I said Kevan do you know what you have done for soccer, he said he had an idea and he was very delighted with the result.I did not meet him he was in a booth I have never heard of. He was on the airport flying out. I asked him to speak to the Dutch soccer guys and get them up here. He said you have just as good contacts. Well I use to but no more. Anyway Kevan is involved with the FIFA and sounded very happy and very relieved as well.

I hope you guys realize what he has done for Canadian soccer,it is beyond even my dreams or expectations.

Some guy and some result in many ways as well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good article and, no doubt, that Mr Pipe did good work in getting this done.

My issue, however, is this - all of the time and energy to build the stadium and get the U20s was, as the article suggests, all encompassing. Which means other matters were not attended to.

I, for one, would much rather have seen this kind of energy put into building the game from the bottom up - coaching, scouting, player development, etc... We have been trying the top down approach for my entire life and it has achieved precisely nothing. I remember hearing much of the same sentiment (minus the new stadium) when we hosted the U16s 20 years ago.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not to comment on Pipe's work, but I for one think putting huge amounts of effort in landing the MLS in Toronto was exactly the way the CSA should have gone. Its already made a tremendous difference in the attention that soccer gets in this country. There is no reason put energy into building the game from the bottom up, if there is no top for the players to aspire to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have to disagree. How, for example, has Australia managed to become a rising power? Not with a super-league, that is for sure.

How come the NASL didn't turn North American soccer into a power base? Because there was no attention paid to developing domestic talent.

I don't mean to suggest that the two alternatives are mutually exclusive. They often are not. But, in this case the article suggests that basically all CSA resources were used in creating a pro-team in Toronto (and the stadium and the tournament).

I cannot think of one long term success story (though there are certainly some) in sport that was the result of a top down strategy. Think of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Why have they sucked so long? Because they refuse to builf their talent base from the bottom up. The teams that consistently compete are the ones that identify and develop their own players.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well the MLS will develop better domestic talent now with the youth initiative every team must under take. As for Austrailia, Japan and Korea, they all use to suck not too long ago. Canada should just look at what they did to turn things around and copy it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

People have to stop using Australia as a benchmark when referring to Canada.

The amount of money that goes into sport in Australia is astronomical, particularly if it's a sport in which they want, as a country, to excel at. Of course, this means that other things that Canadians take for granted does not get the same amount of funding there.

We cannot possibly put as much money into athletics, let alone soccer, and still maintain the same level of all the other services that the government provides.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

quote:Originally posted by El Hombre

We cannot possibly put as much money into athletics, let alone soccer, and still maintain the same level of all the other services that the government provides.

I know I am taking this thread a bit off topic but this is not entirely true....it's a matter of priorities. If the Federal Government cared about the health and welfare of Canadians, more funds could be directed to the advancement of sport in this country and maybe slightly less could go to such projects as the purchase of icebreakers to patrol remote parts of the Arctic. You would likely double the annual budget of every sport fedeeration in this country by simply redirectng the funds from 1 of these icebreakers into an investment in Canadian sport.

This might seem simplistic but it really comes down to political priorities. Federal and provincial governments in this country have almost completely abandoned the idea of encouraging participation in sporting endeavors because it simply doesnt win votes and, in some points of view, is seen as a negative by fiscal conservatives.

If you have ever been to Australia, you would be shocked to see how fit the average Aussie looks. There is a sporting culture in that country and the government feels it is good politics to encourage it along. All that is needed is for this issue to become a topic of discussion in this country. Right now, money is being invested by government to ensure good results at the 2010 Olympics but what happens after the Olympics.

Sorry for the detour...now back to more blubbering about how great Kevan Pipe is....

just a couple of comments on Pipe...how many World Cups did our Senior MNT participate in during his tenure? What significant player development improvements took place under his watch. This U20 tournament was indeed a huge success, no doubt, but you could also look at the situation a different way and wonder why there was not a National Soccer Stadium before 2007 and why the CSA could not help ensure a national league could thrive, even on a smallish scale.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The point isn't that we can put the same kind of money into the system as some other countries. In some cases we can and in many more we cannot. The question is what do you do with the $1 you have?

The example of Australia only means to suggest that with the $1 they had, they put most of it into player development. Building the sport from the ground up.

It's no different in Canadian hockey. Hockey Canada puts enormous resources into player development. Sure, they spend time attracting tournaments, etc...but the profits from these events go straight back into developing the next generation of stars. It becomes self perpetuating after a while.

I'll give you another example. Sprinting in Canada. In 1996 we were the best in the world - Olympic champion and world record holder and the bext 4x100 relay team in the world. We were the best, though, simply by fluke - a freak generation of sprinters (and not that many of them, to be sure). I vividly recall people saying that this would make Canada a permanent spriting power. Young kids would pick up the sport and we would win many more medals at world events. Of course, it has not happened and, unless I am missing something, it isn't about to happen. The reason is because the people who run that sport thought we could coast home with our top level success - no attention was paid to actually developing young coaches and athletes (also, let us not forget, our 1996 team trained in the US). We spent time and money attracting and hosting the World Track and Field Championships.

The same thing has been happening in soccer. Just because we have been a successful host of a big event and we have a new team and stadium, does not mean we will start winning national team games on a consistent basis. It's great that soccer is in the newspapers and on the TV all the time right now. But how, exactly, does that turn a young athlete into a complete professional? In most cases it doesn't.

That is why Pipe was a failure - remember, he was in charge for about 20 years. I only hope that the new CEO has a very different agenda.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

quote:Originally posted by SF

The example of Australia only means to suggest that with the $1 they had, they put most of it into player development. Building the sport from the ground up.

Are you sure about that? From talking to my Australian friends, they tell me that the impetus to succeed in soccer only happened recently (last 4 years or so) and therefore only recently did they start pouring money into it. Yes, some of it went to player development initiatives like the national league, but by no means can you say that the majority of the money went there. This was the country that went out and hired Guus Hiddink remember, which is sort of a "win now" strategy and not a long-term player development strategy.

The thing is that Canada is always compared to Australia on this board without taking into account all the variables IMO. Even VPjr, when disagreeing with my point, recognizes that we have different political priorities than the Aussies. Well, political priorities are driven by votes which are driven by the population. Therefore, you are trying to compare two populations with two different mindsets.

This, however, is going off-topic. My main point here is that you're not comparing apples to apples. You're not even comparing apples to oranges. You're comparing apples to staplers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

quote:Originally posted by El Hombre

From talking to my Australian friends, they tell me that the impetus to succeed in soccer only happened recently (last 4 years or so) and therefore only recently did they start pouring money into it.

Once Soccer Australia was declared corrupt and incompetent.

I guess 1/2 won't do for us... :(

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crawford_Report

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soccer_Australia

Link to comment
Share on other sites

OK, fair enough about Australia. But that doesn't change my basic thesis - that if we want real success (or any, for that matter) in Canadian soccer, we need to build from the ground up.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

quote:Originally posted by VPjr

I know I am taking this thread a bit off topic but this is not entirely true....it's a matter of priorities. If the Federal Government cared about the health and welfare of Canadians, more funds could be directed to the advancement of sport in this country and maybe slightly less could go to such projects as the purchase of icebreakers to patrol remote parts of the Arctic. You would likely double the annual budget of every sport fedeeration in this country by simply redirectng the funds from 1 of these icebreakers into an investment in Canadian sport.

Can't avoid attacking the militray will you.

There are far more wasteful spending of dollars that could go to sport compared to the military.

Try Again.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

quote:Originally posted by Macksam

So what's going to happen from here on out with soccer in Canada John?

The ten million dollar question. I sincerely hope that the media in Canada got the message,that soccer is a major sport,not only at the grassroots level but also anywhere else.The interests shown both in attendance as well as the viewership is one huge message.I know you guys are probably sick and tired of my constant attacks on that media,but that is really were the answers are to be found. media first,marketing second and that alone is a very powerfull combination. I suppose a letter to your local media ,first of all thanking them for the coverage would be good for starters.A letter to the CBC would also be great and sent it to Scott Moore.

Maybe a letter from the voyageaurs sent to all media would be great as well.As Voyageurs we should also consider finding ways to increase our image and set up some guidelines as to how to continue to support soccer as a body and make the media aware who we are.

This also includes making the CSA and other provincial bodies aware who we are.The aim is to keep Canadian soccer in the eyes of the media. This u-20 tournament was one big soccer thing for those that have relations with the teams that came here,but we must now make sure that the media does not view it this way. This is also a big Canadian thing.

I know there are members on this board who are really very much a Voyageur and really would like to enhance our status and purpose as well.

That is my two cents worth.Give it a thought please.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My issue is that we will be marketing a bad product to the media. And it will take the rest of the country about 2 minutes to figure it out. The media, for the last month, have been paying attention to a U20 World Cup that featured some great foreign players. What happens when that attention turns to a Canadian national team that is eliminated from World Cup qualifying more than a year before the finals.

If we had qualified for the last 2-3 World Cups the media and the public would have noticed and would have caught the proverbial fire.

Marketing and media exposure is important - as long as you have a good product. Regrettably we do not.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kevan Pipe did some great work at the end of his tenure. It is the first 17 years where he didn't get things done. The national stadium, MLS franchise and U20 World Cup can only partially make up for the failure to develop talent and a place for them to play. After qualifying for the '86 World Cup Canada should have gone on to fight it out with Mexico and the rising American power for supremacy in the region. That we are fighting with the likes of El Salvador, Panama and T&T shows where Pipe let us down.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

^^^^I agree. I just want the CSA to reveal their plans for the future, if any. If they're just going to come out and say "We're going to be running things the same as we've always had," than we can just forget about anything to look forward to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

^^^^I agree. I just want the CSA to reveal their plans for the future, if any. If they're just going to come out and say "We're going to be running things the same as we've always had," than we can just forget about anything to look forward to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

No matter what it is simply because the big Canadian boys finally moved in which created all the credebility in the world, the media jumped on that MLSE bandwagon and we are seing the results big time.The various govenrments as wel as the FIFA got involved and Edmonton put up a life savor show for Canadian soccer.(thanks Edmonton)

However without that huge umbrella MLSE nothing would have changed.

In the long run even the MLSE guys will become very much involved with the Canadian team and than finally everything will fall in place.

I have always known about the tremendous interest that exist in soccer.

It was Kevan who never seemed to have lost faith and it was Kevan who with all his enthousiasm got all these important players behind soccer.

Thanks that these Argo guys bailed out. This would have been a disaster.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

quote:Originally posted by El Hombre

People have to stop using Australia as a benchmark when referring to Canada.

The amount of money that goes into sport in Australia is astronomical, particularly if it's a sport in which they want, as a country, to excel at. Of course, this means that other things that Canadians take for granted does not get the same amount of funding there.

We cannot possibly put as much money into athletics, let alone soccer, and still maintain the same level of all the other services that the government provides.

Australia demands results in order for sports to get that funding. Soccer in Australia had to reform itself based on the Crawford Report or risk losing sports funds to do so.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A good question was asked earlier, "what do you do with your current $?"

Short term:

1)

Forego on Futsal, Beach Soccer, Francophone and Paralympic programs.

Unpopular, you bet, but reallocate those funds back to the National teams.

2)

Eliminate 2 of the following four programs from both the boys and girls side - u15, u16, u17 and u18. Co-mingle the pools, same amount of players but they are now all training together. Only two programs would travel - take the best of the rest.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...