Four years ago, they opened the Women’s World Cup in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, the place in which Jesse Owens took the arc of sports and history and tilted it toward decency.
Inside one of the globe’s most recognizable gathering places, that occasion was a spectacle – 74,000 in attendance, sold out weeks beforehand, a frenzied atmosphere. It was a priceless advertisement for Germany, which is the only sane reason anyone goes to the trouble and expense of hosting one of these things.
On Saturday, they’ll open the next one in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.
The arena is not famous, or suited to soccer, or attractive. Scratch that. It’s actively ugly. The field is circled by a track – the perfect bush-league touch that says “high school.”
In order to maintain the televised illusion of grass – the surface is artificial turf – they’ve haphazardly laid long, near-green carpets on the sidelines. Like your weirdo cousins do in their paved-over backyard.
The global audience is used to seeing this level of event played on landscape architecture so pristine it makes Versailles look like urban farmland. Canada’s version is going to look like the house that gets cleaned by piling all the junk behind the couch.
Maybe the enthusiasm of the crowd can make up for the aesthetic shortcomings. Or maybe not. The locals don’t seem all that interested. As of Thursday, the game was 5,000 seats short of a sellout according to organizers.
As an ad for the country, then, the marketing tag line of the opening match of the 2015 World Cup goes something like, “Canada: Well, you know.”
What we know is where this game should be played, and why it isn’t.
It should be in Toronto, where there is a very expensive, purpose-designed structure of which its proper name is the National Soccer Stadium (BMO Field).
You and I paid for it to be built. Why did we do that if it’s not going to be used for the most important national soccer game that has ever been played in this country? Taxpayers got talked into buying a fridge, and now the bureaucrats want to use it as a bookshelf.
Also, there is the small matter of Edmonton. This requires some delicacy.
Edmonton, God love you. In some ways you are the romantic home of soccer in Canada. But when the whole country has to stand up in front of the rest of the world, you can’t be the first one talking. We just need you to stand there quietly, looking supportive.
No, no, not in front. They’ll see you. Stand behind Vancouver. No, on the other side of Montreal. All right, why don’t you just crouch down behind Halifax and we’ll hope everyone thinks you’re Ottawa.
When England has to make a good impression, they don’t spend hours debating if it should be highlighting Sunderland or Liverpool. You know, for the sake of fairness.
They go to London, straight off and every time, because that’s what the world wants.
The world is going to tune in on Saturday expecting Toronto because that’s the city that matters. It may hurt to hear it, but it doesn’t make it less true.
This might be marginally palatable if any games of the Women’s World Cup were slated to be played in the city. But there are none. Not a single element of the most important summer-sports tournament played here since the 1976 Olympics will take place in the country’s largest, most cosmopolitan, most soccer-loving city.
(Words are too poor a vehicle here. Just imagine me staring at you for a long time, until one eye starts to twitch and you start to get a little afraid.)
Sure, why not? Why the hell not?
Hey, why don’t we move Parliament to a parking lot in Timmins, Ont.? The next time the G8 leaders swing by, we’ll take them to Rimouski, Que., and put them up in a Holiday Inn Express. Maybe the Prime Minister can start doing all televised addresses in a tank top from his garage.
If we don’t care what people think of us, why don’t we just give up altogether?
This outrageous oversight does allow me to write the most unlikely sentence ever printed in this newspaper: The real victim here is Toronto.
Being left out is one thing. But for all its deeds, good and otherwise, Toronto is to be punished with the Pan American Games. What are they? Who’s in them? Why are they here? Good questions. Since no one plans to watch the thing, they’re good questions that will never be answered.
Currently in Toronto, the Pan Ams mean one thing – a commuting apocalypse. City officials are asking people to stay off the roads for a sizable chunk of July. Another great idea.
“If you must leave your home for any reason – including childbirth and house fires – please use public transportation,” they’re saying, which would make sense if they’d bothered to build us any serviceable public transportation.
I suppose we should all call work and tell them we’ll be staying home for those two weeks. No, we’re not sick. We’ll probably spend most of the time lying in a turtle pool, day drinking and alarming the neighbours. But this isn’t about what we want. It’s about the country.
The Pan Ams are the reason Toronto got passed over for the World Cup, a governmental scare job done by an event that didn’t want even a small echo of its inconsiderable thunder stolen by a much more popular sports tournament.
It’s a small national embarrassment so nitwitted, nobody wants to talk about it. But don’t worry. The rest of the world won’t either. They’ll just think we’re charmingly small-town and save their awe for countries that trumpet their biggest and brightest.Report Typo/Error