Like the people who inhabit it, Canada continues to wear down FIFA with its affable, low-key dependability.
A couple of unfortunately tasered Chileans aside, we’re in the midst of another blemish-free, second-string World Cup.
Our women’s under-20 team has slogged through its draw, and will face Germany in the quarter-finals on Saturday in Edmonton.
The team has been workmanlike. The way the country has embraced the tournament could be called revelatory, if we didn’t manage this sort of thing all the time.
Hordes are showing up to watch games played by teenagers no one’s ever heard of. Canada is the world’s most dependable dinner guest – invite us and we’ll come. No last-minute excuses about the babysitter begging off. Even better – if it turns out that no one can be bothered to host the party, we’ll put our hand up.
An announced crowd of 10,000 Edmontonians attended a Friday night doubleheader last week. The Canadian team wasn’t involved. There have been four U-20 Women’s World Cups. We’ve done the honours for two of them.
Pat yourself on the back, Canada. You’ve shown the sort of commitment that’d make a Millwall supporter weep with admiration.
Then there’s just about everyone else.
They held the second iteration of this tournament in Russia. That country will play host to the real prize in four years’ time. Maybe. It’s 50/50 at this point.
According to the official match report, 100 spectators showed up to watch a group-stage match at Moscow’s Torpedo Stadium between Canada and China. A hundred is an oddly specific number. One presumes “100” actually means “14.” And those might have been ushers looking for a place to sit down. You’d get more people randomly sunbathing in the vicinity of a soccer field in the park on a Saturday afternoon.
Nonetheless, they gave Russia the World Cup in 2018. Why? Well, money for starters. And reputation. Russia sounds like a footballing country. It hasn’t been any good since the Wall came down, but it’s a sight better than us. We’ll give it that much.
Beyond that, there’s little to recommend Russia. It’s run by a jumped-up little weirdo with a Napoleon complex. It likes picking fights. It has to add billions in infrastructure to make this work. If Sochi is our guide, Russia won’t do a very good job at it. The country is vast. Without that infrastructure – which is always promised and never delivered – getting around is going to be a nightmare.
It does have a professional league. It draws far fewer fans, on average, than our (shared) professional league.
There will be a bunch of matches in Russia played in front of nearly empty stadiums. Mark that down. Who’s going to schlep out to Kaliningrad to watch Japan play Switzerland, or some such? Not the Russians, that’s for sure.
In Canada, you could put a game on Baffin Island and people’d be lining up the year before to get their bush pilot’s licence in order to get up there. FIFA doesn’t give a simple damn about the people who travel to World Cups, but it does want the stadiums filled. Otherwise, the game looks awful on TV.
Canada is a guaranteed hedge against that risk. Unlike many others who will claim to do likewise, we’ve proved it.
Like most of the rest of the world, Russians are only interested in big-time soccer (i.e. the men’s variety played either by their countrymen or really famous foreigners). Canada just likes having people over for a little visit, and then making our guests feel welcome.
Following the senior Women’s World Cup next summer, we will have played host to the globe’s major soccer tournament at nearly every level of age and gender, save the ultimate draw. No country has shown more consistent dedication to the international game at its grassroots.
We have done the footballing world many solids, and now we are owed one back.
All of this was well-meaning groundwork for our 2026 World Cup bid.
Five years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible. We could apply in good faith and put up a compelling organizational rationale, but nobody in this country is willing to grease all the palms that have tipped bids over the past decade or so.
That may be in process of changing.
The past two World Cups have been mitigated failures. No one went to South Africa (which was a wonderful tournament on the ground) because they were afraid. Brazil was only half-prepared and less than half-sure that it wanted the thing. Both tournaments worked, but just barely. Neither was anywhere close to a without-qualifications success.
Those were iffy, but the next two are shaping up as disasters. If the Russians are still mucking around in Ukraine in a couple of years’ time, the boycott talk will start. Realistically, how does the Netherlands go to a World Cup in Russia after the downing of Flight MH17? It doesn’t. That’s the first domino.
Qatar is already a shameful human-rights “How Not To,” which will only get worse.
At some point between now and then, FIFA president Sepp Blatter will leave. By then, that vast and wildly profitable bureaucracy will be primed for an image overhaul. Blatter consolidated power by allowing FIFA to become a kleptocracy. Its next iteration is as something cleaner than clean. It’s too easy to do, and too obvious a chance to miss.
Under those circumstances, Canada ticks every box – dependable, tried and true, more than willing to build what needs to be built, panting for the chance to make this thing a success and – most importantly – lily-white on the corruption front. After so many near-misses, it’s a World Cup without risk.
It’s still a long shot. But we’ve already proved we’re up to the job.