Neighbors to the north | There’s more than tundra up there

Toronto goes soccer-specific

Toronto | Toronto councillors, as of late October, have approved public financing for a 20,000-seat soccer-specific stadium to host a Major League Soccer expansion franchise in 2007. The stadium would also be available to help stage—along with venues in Montreal, Edmonton, Ottawa, Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia—the 2007 FIFA World Youth Championship, which already has been awarded to Canada. The city would contribute about $10 million to construction of the $63 million facility, with the federal and Ontario governments along with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, owners of the Maple Leafs (National Hockey League) and Toronto Raptors (National Basketball Association), making up the difference. Debate has been spirited, with some objecting to the public subsidy.

“This is so wrong. This is so bad,” said Councillor Mike Del Grande during the 4½-hour debate. “It’s a backroom deal” (Vanessa Lu and John Spears,City Spends $9.8M for Soccer Stadium,” Toronto Star, 28 October).

Others wonder whether MLS can lure interest, now that European football is readily available. “For most Toronto fans, the focus is on the very best soccer in the world—European soccer,” says Bruno Hartrell, co-owner of the United Soccer League’s Toronto Lynx. “The North American product is so far down the ladder to those fans, you’re very hard-pressed to attract them” (Cathal Kelly,Soccer Gamble: Can MLSE Make It Work?Toronto Star, 29 October).

At play, too, are questions of soccer’s place in the sporting culture of an extraordinarily vast (3.9 million square miles) and diverse land mass, as well as the desires to preserve Canada’s distinctiveness in relationship to the United States. No one questions that soccer could replace ice hockey in the hearts of Canada’s sports watchers. Georgie Binks, a Toronto writer, compares the yearlong National Hockey League lockout to “losing a lover.” Six of the NHL’s 30 teams are based in Canada; Hockey Night in Canada, telecast on Saturdays by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., is a national institution, dating to its origins in radio in 1933. “We felt shunned and very hurt,” says Binks. “I was encouraged most people didn’t go completely insane. I couldn’t envision at first what it might be like. For many of us, it wasn’t reality” (Ed Graney,Finally! Game On, Eh?San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 October).

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