The Canada France bronze medal match in the women’s Olympic football tournament is currently underway. Rather than write a paean to the Canadian team whatever the result (you’ll be seeing a lot of those in the coming days), I think it’s important to take the time to acknowledge what happened in the course of these Olympics.
Over the course of two games (discounting the group stage performance, which was very wait-and-see), Canadians became enamoured with women’s soccer. Journalists and pundits who likely hadn’t watched a full ninety-minute women’s game in their entire life felt nothing of penning detailed op-eds on the team’s tactical failings. Articles on FIFA’s disciplinary hearings made the front page of a national newspaper in Canada. CBC Radio’s national news this morning called today’s game “the story of these Olympics, the one everyone’s talking about.” Success, particularly at the highest stage, breeds success. This underlines the importance of qualification for improving the national program.
It’s important however not to be naive. The Canadian news cycle’s regard for sports not called hockey is notoriously fickle. This tournament won’t magically make Canada world beaters. But it’s not unreasonable to think more kids will enroll in local soccer teams, and registration numbers might get a boost. It’s important the CSA take the initiative in ensuring that ALL the provinces are on board with the general principles outlined in the Long Term Development Plan modified as part of the Wellness to the World Cup model.
A story: a few months prior to the London games, I had the pleasure of watching the Canadian mens national team play a centennial friendly against the USA. I walked to BMO Field without a ticket, but I was lucky enough to bump into a former member of the CanWNT who had an extra (Canadian soccer, ladies and gentlemen).
I sat nearby some of the national team players currently playing for Bronze in Coventry, and next to them was a local girls soccer team invited to watch the game. It was clear to see how nervous and excited these young players were to be so near their idols. They knew each and every player name by heart, and some mustered up the courage to ask for autographs.
But what struck me was the girls’ interest in the game itself. I will never forget the sound of a soccer team with players no older than 12 years old yelling “Psyche!” at the top of their lungs whenever Landon Donovan took a corner. Because the importance of soccer isn’t just to give bored school kids something to do.
Some of those girls will grow up fans of the game at all levels. They will take an interest in the national program, in local clubs, whether in local amateur teams or in MLS. They will spread that interest to their family and friends. That’s not just good for the women’s game; that’s good for Canadian soccer as a whole. Regardless of whether the women win or lose today, chances are this tournament has already been a massive success for the Canadian game.
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