CityNationalOpinion

Soccer fans hurt the most after being overlooked by FIFA

In the end, Edmonton not being chosen as a FIFA host city affects our soccer community the most.

There are few things Edmontonians love more than their soccer. Every time Commonwealth Stadium hosts a game, thousands of spectators come to watch.  

The FIFA qualifying match was no exception — Commonwealth was nearly full, even in sub-zero temperatures. No matter how horrible the weather is, Edmontonians rally to support our teams.

That’s why, when we found out we weren’t chosen as a Canadian host city for the World Cup, the news was met with disappointment. Albertans were sure our capital would host at least a few games. 

Within North America, 16 cities will get the chance to host. The USA will host 60 matches, while Mexico and Canada will each get 10. Toronto, Vancouver, and Edmonton each put a bid forward, with Alberta pledging $110 million towards hosting. However, Vancouver and Toronto were picked over Edmonton for the Canadian games. 

Albertans are upset about this loss for many reasons. Toronto and Vancouver, which are huge tourist destinations, get to host 10 games between the two of them. Tourism would have increased exponentially if FIFA had picked Edmonton as a host city. To be up on the world stage alongside those cities would have put Edmonton on the map. How many future opportunities would hosting have secured us? This was a huge opportunity for Edmonton to profit off of, both short and long term.  

However, I don’t think loss of profit was the biggest blow. The cultural loss far outweighs the economic benefits of hosting the World Cup. 

Alberta has always been a sports-crazy province — with Edmonton being the centre of it all. Like most Canadians, Edmontonians are hockey fans in the winter, with Rogers Place being near capacity when the Oilers are playing. But the minute the weather begins to warm, we retire our skates in favour of the soccer pitch. 

For many, soccer acts as a pillar of the community. We’re a soccer city first, after all, with thousands of kids playing every year, and many continuing into adulthood. Despite being a frozen tundra 10 months out of the year, many kids choose to play soccer instead of hockey, especially those who immigrate to Canada. More and more, young people are choosing to play soccer over our national sport, myself included. 

I’ve been a soccer player for almost 16 years. Like most Canadians, I started off as an adorable Timbit playing on a school field, picking more dandelions than scoring goals. Eventually, I became a strong defender of a women’s team, playing both indoor and outdoor soccer. Soccer was a unifier in my family, with all of us coming together to watch any match we could. 

Soccer is very dear to my heart, as it took up so much of my free time growing up. Whenever the Canadian women’s team had a game in Edmonton, it was almost guaranteed that I’d go watch. When I heard our boys were playing a FIFA qualifier match in Edmonton, I knew I had to be there. 

Getting to experience the best players of your sport defeat other teams is an incredible feeling. Even if you aren’t a sports fanatic, going to a World Cup match can make you one. I didn’t start to idolize female players like Christine Sinclair until I saw her play in person. It’s sad that so many young players won’t get to experience that.  

Nothing will top the immense pride I had in my sport, my city, and my country when we beat Mexico for the first time in over 20 years. Surrounded by nearly 45,000 of my fellow Canadians, I felt like I was seeing a monumental moment in Canadian history. Even though it was snowing and I was wearing at least three pairs of socks, I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else. When we won, it felt like the world stopped with the screams and cheers of thousands of people.

The disappointment I feel now, as do many Albertans, is deep. It feels like we lost something so close to the finish line. 

The Canadian men’s team has not qualified for FIFA since 1986. Hosting FIFA would have been the event of a lifetime, even if our team wasn’t the one playing.  

In the past, Commonwealth Stadium has hosted many huge events, including several FIFA matches. Imagine the impact hosting a massive worldwide soccer event like this would have had on a whole new generation of soccer fans and players. 

For some, they remember the last time Canada qualified for FIFA in 1986. Others have never had the chance to see our men’s team qualify for FIFA, let alone play a game. If Albertans had the opportunity to see a FIFA game at our home stadium, we could have seen a real shift of support. Instead of Oilers flags and jerseys, we could have experienced waves of merchandise for our national soccer team. 

After we qualified to play in the World Cup, Canadians really started to pay attention and believe in our men’s team. For a long time, Canadians were resigned to the fact that our women’s team were winners, but our men often weren’t. 

John Herdman, current men’s team coach, recognized the shift in the Canadian mentality after our monumental victory against Jamaica. 

“I think this country, they never believed in us … [but] they believe now,” he said. 

Albertans have always believed in our national soccer teams, during both wins and losses. It’s a shame, now that all of Canada knows the strength and power in soccer, that supporters from the beginning don’t get to see our boys win.

Katie Teeling

Katie is the 2022-23 Opinion Editor at The Gateway. She previously served as the Deputy Opinion Editor. She’s in her fourth year, studying anthropology and history. She is obsessed with all things horror, Adam Driver, and Lord of the Rings. When she isn’t crying in Tory about human evolution, Katie can be found drinking iced capps and reading romance novels.

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