By Ben Knight Onward!
It’s time for big changes at the Canadian Soccer Association.
Next week, on Wednesday, September 12, the Canadian men’s national soccer team will finally play its very first match at Toronto’s BMO Field. It will be the senior squad’s first appearance in Canada’s largest city since their 0-0 draw with Mexico at Varsity Stadium on a chilly November night — seven years ago.
This will be a night of joy and celebration. Not only is My Team coming to town (fan first, journalist second, pleased to make your acquaintance), but their opponent is Costa Rica, most-recent holders of the third World Cup qualifying spot in CONCACAF — the ultimate measuring stick of how well Canada is doing on the road to World Cup 2010.
I cannot wait for this game to begin. I’m pumped! I’m excited!
… Oh, and I’ll be wearing black — head to foot.
So will hundreds — we hope thousands — of others.
It’s part of a mass protest, being organized by Canadian soccer fans all over the Internet. We will descend on BMO Field, wearing black, cheer lustily for Canada — to demand the immediate ouster and reorganization of the Canadian Soccer Association.
Okay, this isn’t very big as revolutions go. But it is a popular uprising, with plenty of media backing and the support of every Canadian national-team player who has so far spoken up. The goal is the overthrow of the present system of soccer governance in this country. That does — in fact — make it a revolution.
It is long overdue.
There really isn’t much point digging up — yet again — all the sorry details of the calamitous dispute between the CSA’s board of directors and freshly departed former president Colin Linford. Just do an Internet search on Linford’s name, and you’ll get more hits and info than you could possibly even begin to care about.
The real point: ongoing organizational paralysis and incompetence, dating back to long before Linford. Certainly the CSA played an important role in the recent Canadian soccer explosion that produced BMO Field, Toronto FC and the hosting of this summer’s fine FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
But without the far more powerful wills — and financial commitment — of FIFA, CONCACAF, Major League Soccer, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ottawa, Queen’s Park and Toronto Mayor David Miller, none of these things would have happened.
The current bureaucratic paralysis is all the proof anyone needs of the need for swift and sudden change. The president just quit. The president’s choice for CEO — former Canadian amateur basketball supremo Fred Nykamp — is about to be turned down by the CSA board. That’s the same board that vetoed Linford’s choice of controversial Brazilian coach-for-hire Rene Simoes as Canada’s coach.
In the ash and fallout of the Simoes snafu, Canadian U-20 coach Dale Mitchell was promoted to the position of national team coach. He then guided his Canadian youth team to the worst performance in the history of the event. In any other country, Mitchell would have been dismissed. In Canada, he was promoted.
I still have hope for Mitchell. I’ll have a lot more if Canada comes out and plays inspired, daring, attacking soccer against Costa Rica. That’s how they beat the Ticos at the Gold Cup. I want to know that Dale Mitchell took note.
But back at the CSA’s huge and controversial mansion home in Ottawa, we’re left with a group of people who refuse to talk about what they do, asking us to take their word for what they’re doing.
That’s what all the black shirts are for.
To me, the biggest problem is the CSA does two different jobs. It’s the ultimate national arbiter of amateur soccer across Canada’s four-and-a-half time zones, and also runs all of our national teams. Linford — and many others — have been left fuming over the internal, conflicting, small-picture agendas of the various provincial reps on the CSA board.
The solution is simple. Liberate the national teams. Bust ‘em right out of there.
Let the provincial reps become the new CSA, handling the amateur game, getting together to mediate and moderate the things they know best. Turn the national teams loose to a new Soccer Canada organization, built on the sole mandate of getting red maple-leaf shirts on the field at every World Cup everywhere for the foreseeable ever.
Australia’s already been there and done that. Faced with similar paralysis a few years ago, it bounced the provincials, and created a new governing body for the Socceroos. Things have improved immeasurably.
The Canada-Costa Rica game is symbolic in many ways. As the first full men’s international at Toronto’s new national soccer stadium, it is emblematic of all the growth and change that has been wrought in Canadian soccer — largely by big-money \”outsiders\” — in the past five years.
That makes it the perfect time and place to say \”enough is enough.\” All that black is coming to tell the CSA it has lost the fans, lost the players, lost the media — and it’s only a matter of time until it loses its funding and all its cushy perqs, as well.
But we’re still cheering like crazy for Canada. Players, I know you already know this, but we love you and are with you all the way. If hundreds of us turn up in black instead of red, that doesn’t change the depth and intensity of our support. We all want to sing and stomp and cheer you to victory, and sent the Ticos back to Central America carrying the ominous message that Toronto is one tough place to try to get a result on the road.
So fans — come to the game, wear black, and cheer.
It’s time to show these bickering, embattled bureaucrats just who exactly owns Canadian soccer — and to get our beloved national teams into safer, more trustworthy hands. If painting BMO Field black for one night will do that — while we’re still making all the noise we possibly can to back Our Lads — then break out the AC/DC, and I’ll see you at the game.
The future is red. Wednesday, September 12 is black.