The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is often credited with reviving the idea of “eternal recurrence,” the hypothetical notion that events, choices, decisions, are destined to endlessly repeat for all time, to infinity. He called the idea “horrifying and paralyzing,” concepts no doubt well-known to supporters of the Canadian mens national soccer team, who watched in (very) familiar horror as Canada drew Panama 1-1, effectively eliminating them from the Gold Cup (the USA took care of the rest by beating Guadeloupe 1-0).
Having studied Canadian soccer history since its inception in the 1870s, I can safely say Canada has been content to repeat the same footballing mistakes, over and over and over again, since our last achievement of any historical note: winning the gold medal in association football at the St. Louis olympics in 1904. These mistakes include attempting to compete internationally with no coherent national player development plan, no stable domestic professional league, inept or structurally and financially hampered administrative bodies, and a lack of fan support and paucity of domestic media coverage.
Even Canada’s World Cup qualification in 1986 felt like the exception that proved the rule, a historical mistake which only underlined the breadth of skill between Canada and the rest of the world, despite a heroic group stage performance. So what do we as Canadian soccer fans do in light of this latest international embarrassment?
Call for Stephen Hart to be fired? No. The CSA has barely been able to keep up with official business while securing Carolina Morace’s commitment to the women’s team over the past several months; the idea of kicking off a managerial search with the WCQs around the corner because of an early Gold Cup exit is ludicrous.
Reform the Canadian Soccer Association? Well, there are signs the CSA is taking small steps in that direction, but relying on suits to do the right thing in Ottawa over the next several AGMs seems overly passive.
Drum up more fan interest in the CMNT? Sure, absolutely. But the present state of affairs means marketing Canada games will be even more difficult, although playing qualifiers in more Canada friendly markets would at least ensure majority home support.
In any case, each of these approaches have tried in the past, producing the same result. Historically speaking, any meaningful change in Canadian soccer occurred when individual people, whether high school chemistry teachers, journalists, or grocery store owners, took it on themselves to make a change, to get together and to organize, whether leagues, friendlies, or association meetings.
Canadian soccer has met with failure and disappointment when these individuals move on to other things, when they stop paying attention. While we’re at a relative cultural high point with regard to soccer in this country, the price of progress is eternal vigilance. Canada’s continued lack-lustre performances go beyond individual players, coaches, administrators, fans, referees, etc. What is needed to bring about lasting change isn’t angry sentiment, but meaningful, organized action. This involves time, organization, advocacy and hard work from people from all walks of life with an interest in the game. Neither does this sort of action have to be “radical” or pie-in-the-sky. I’ll be looking at some steps we can take over the next several days.