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

The NHL returned on 5 October following its hiatus. Binks’s friends seemed divided on the impact of hockey’s absence on the national libido. Some polling suggested that Saturday-night hockey facilitated amorous encounters; some are not so sure. Binks writes: “One woman wrote to me that her husband had always done the ironing during the hockey game, and now the ironing basket was filled to overflowing. But it had meant no change to their sex life” (“What’s the Score? Does No Hockey Mean More Action?” CBC News, 4 February).

Like the United States, however, soccer nearly tops the charts in Canada when it comes to participation. The last major survey of nationwide participation in sports, completed in 1998, shows soccer placing second to ice hockey (37 to 34 percent) among boys 5–14 and second to swimming (30 to 28 percent) among girls. Participation rates in soccer dropped to 11 and 6 percent of active men and women, with ice hockey (men) and swimming (women) remaining the most practiced.

According to the Canadian Soccer Association, there were 825,000 registered youth and adult players in 2004, with 347,000 women, or 40 percent of the total. In a country of 32 million, the per-capita numbers are high. Pockets of fervor also exist, with Newfoundland mentioned in a recent BBC report as being especially “football mad” (BBC World Football, 29 October; archived audio available as of 7 November). The St. Lawrence Laurentians of Newfoundland competed in October’s provincial Challenge Cup, established in 1912; as Newfoundland and Labrador champions, they represented a tiny, seafaring community of 1,500 with Irish roots. The Laurentians’ website chronicles the first recorded game in 1904, complete with the name of referee and goal scorer. “Soccer is a religion there,” CSA competitions director Angus Barrett tells the BBC’s Margot Dunne.

If you look down at the bleachers, there’s a gentleman there in a yellow jacket. He’s actually broadcasting the game back to Newfoundland. And they’ve been doing that for about 15 years. It’s the only province that has its games broadcast back on radio.

In a follow-up interview to the BBC report, Owen Hargreaves—born in Calgary, Alberta, and a midfielder for Bayern Munich and England (his father is from England, mother from Wales)—is asked about Canada’s failed attempts to form a professional league (the Canadian Soccer League folded in 1992) and whether Canadian soccer always will be linked with the United States. The Toronto Croatia, established by Croatian immigrants, competed in the former North American Soccer League and were crowned champions in 1976; they were preceded by Toronto Blizzard and Vancouver Whitecaps.

Charmaine Hooper

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