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Crônicas | November 2005

Possibilities rich in return leg

Johnny Warren had a "love affair with all things Brazilian" and harnessed a "fierce enthusiasm to drag football out from the shadows into the light," writes the Sydney Morning Herald. (Robert Pearce | The Age)
Sydney, Nov 13 | Australia has marked a year since the death on 6 November 2004 of football advocate and reformer Johnny Warren (see 31 December 2004). Soccer has been rebranded to Warren's preferred "football"—more representative of the world game, Warren thought—with the successful beginning of the eight-team, relegation-free A-League. Australia's World Cup prospects always tenuous in Oceania, the island continent will join the Asia Football Confederation in future competitions. Finally, in their last opportunity to represent Oceania in a World Cup finals, the Socceroos minimized damage in a 1–0 loss to Uruguay in a qualifying playoff first leg on Saturday. (The return leg is Wednesday, 16 November). Warren is interred at East Sydney cemetery, which looks out onto Botany Bay. "You can imagine him up there in the great grandstand in the sky," writes Michael Cockerill for the Sydney Morning Herald, "legs crossed, glass of wine in hand, casting an eye over the A-League. Geeezzuss he would be saying, as a mistimed pass ended up over the sideline. To Warren, football was more than just jogo bonito—the beautiful game. It was life" ("Warren Legacy Deserves to Be Thing of Beauty," 4 November).

We cannot comment on the quality of the A-League, although the most thorough review we have found is "Confessions of an A-League Junkie" (http://penaltyspot.blogspot.com/), a Web log authored by James Brown in Melbourne. The teams in the league are:

Adelaide United (www.adelaideunited.com.au)
Central Coast Mariners (www.ccmariners.com.au)
Melbourne Victory (www.melbournevictory.com.au)
New Zealand Knights (www.nzknights.com)
Newcastle Jets (www.newcastlejets.com.au)
Perth Glory (www.perthglory.com.au)
Queensland Roar (www.qldroar.com.au)
Sydney FC (www.sydneyfc.com)

Reading about the modest expectations for crowd support, the salary cap, the nondescript team names ("Roar," "Glory," et al.) and the need to market to families we are reminded of Major League Soccer in the United States (Mike Ticher, "Letter from . . . Australia," When Saturday Comes, November 2005, 40). The similarities in sporting cultures also resonate with Brown, who trots out the arguments for Australia producing relatively weak field players, but quality goalkeepers: "[P]otential shot stoppers thrive in an Australian culture congested with hand-oriented sports. Perhaps the proliferation of 'handball' codes in this country has contributed to the accelerated development of hand-eye coordination among our sporting elite" ("Our Goalkeepers," 2 November). Wisely, though, Brown does not seem to give the argument much credence. As in the United States, the concept of "sport space" exists in Australia—that is, can soccer find a spot in public consciousness with strong competition from more "native" games?

Football in its previous Australian manifestation, in the National Soccer League, was at least partly a province for teams with strong ethnic associations. The A-League may have lost some of this flavor, but, to some observers, soccer is now less compartmentalized and more likely to be regarded seriously by potential sponsors. One could do worse than reading the "Rank and Vile: Musings of an Accidental Australian" Web log (http://rankandvile.dailyflute.com/) on such questions. In a full 16 single-spaced pages, including conversation-starter essay ("Soccer and the Australian Psyche," 5 August 2005) and moderated responses, one learns how soccer creates fear in backers of Australian Rules football that the local football code might lose its primacy. "'If Australia should ever reach the semifinals or final of the World Cup, that day will be costly for Australian [Rules] football,"

The self-styled "accidental Australian, " Guido, author of the intelligent Web log "Rank and Vile."
writes historian Geoffrey Blainey, who, like advocates of the "sport space" concept in the USA, sees a sport's popularity as a zero-sum equation: soccer is up, therefore Australian football is down ("Whither Our Beloved Game?" The Age, 29 August 2003). Johnny Warren, according to the Sydney Morning Herald's Cockerill, felt that a "white bread" soccer establishment were wary of the sport's flavor, its association with migrants and the "foreign." The author of "Rank and Vile," Guido, who identifies himself as a 1974 migrant from Italy, develops these ideas:

The fear of "invasion" has been with European Australians since the first fleet. Here they were, a small white population as far away from their homes as they could get, settling on the edge of a huge and unknown continent with an indigenous population they didn't know anything about and with Asian populations to the north which were perceived to be huge. Out of this came the creation of the "White Australia Policy" and the "Yellow Peril." The fear to be taken over by something bigger and stronger.

Some respondents to Guido's post say that they consider themselves "bi-codal" and follow both sports. Some see soccer, as Warren did, as a means to leading Australia out of cultural isolation (Les Murray, "Marrakesh Express to a New Dawn," The World Game, 1 October). Those of this opinion applauded the actions at September's extraordinary congress of the Asian Football Confederation, meeting before the 55th Ordinary FIFA Congress in Morocco. At this gathering Australia became part of Asia, at least in football. In Murray's article on the soccer website affiliated with Special Broadcasting Service, a public Australia channel offering multicultural and multilingual programs, he joins the ceremonial mood:

That afternoon the AFC had . . . a full gathering of its numerous members, a rainbow of copious cultures and races, spanning the Red Sea to the Sea of Japan. Its main event was the formal and ceremonial acceptance of Australia, its first member with a predominantly European culture, as one of its own. The AFC president, Mohamed Bin Hammam, made Australia’s northward migration the focal point of his introductory speech, welcoming Australia to the Asian football family. It was football as a force in uniting cultures violently at work.

Policy wonks see the new affiliation as one of political importance. Anthony Bubalo of the Lowy Institute for International PolicyFrank Lowy, shopping-center magnate and chairman of Football Federation Australia, lent his name to the Sydney think tank—says that it has the potential to shift the Australian perspective on Asia. Previously, Bubalo writes,

The site of Saturday's Uruguay–Australia playoff, and that of the first World Cup final in 1930. "The stadium was called Centenario," writes Eduardo Galeano, "to celebrate the constitution which a century before had denied civil rights to women, the illiterate and the poor."
Australians had been led to see Asia as a market or as a tourist destination, lacking a "common language and frame of reference" that soccer offers ("Comrades on and off the Pitch," The Australian, 30 September). On a more results-oriented note, the Australians with the move have jiggered the qualifying formula that saw them lose qualification playoffs to Israel (1969), New Zealand (1981), Scotland (1985), Argentina (1993), Iran (1997) and their current opponent, Uruguay (2001). The two sides traded jibes before Saturday's first leg. Australia made a point of mentioning the atmosphere in 2001, when they were "spat at" and "jostled" on arrival in Montevideo; this time, they bunked across the Rio de la Plata in Argentina. Uruguay coach Jorge Fossati responded that "Uruguayans are one of the most educated and peaceful people in the world."

But such are the cultural disputes and misunderstandings that crop up when one plays the world game.

The Sydney Morning Herald shouted the news on the front page of its website. (www.smh.com.au)

Update: As was evident from the lusty singing of "Waltzing Matilda" drifting in the bedroom window at 7:30 a.m. (or earlier) on 16 November, Australia has earned a spot in the World Cup finals for the first time since 1974. A review of Warren's book Sheilas, Wogs, and Poofters: An Incomplete Biography of Johnny Warren and Soccer in Australia (Random House Australia, 2002), quotes Warren as noting "with approval the comments of a Brazilian ambassador who wondered whether Australians had a linguistic or an anatomical problem, since they seemed to reserve the term 'football' for games in which the players predominantly use their hands" (Roy Jones, Journal of Australian Studies Review of Books, June 2002).

There's more than tundra to it

Yep, that's a stadium all right: a generic mock-up of the proposed Toronto facility.
Toronto, Nov 5 | 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).

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. website includes audio archives from the early antiquity of Hockey Night in Canada.

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). 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.

The St. Laurence Laurentians of 1933. (www.laurentianshomepage.com)
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 of the Canadian women's team has journeyed to Norway, Italy, Japan and the United States to keep her career alive.
Among women, Vancouver Whitecaps, London Gryphons, Ottawa Fury, Sudbury Canadians, and the Toronto Lady Lynx represent Canada in the semi-pro W-League, another primarily U.S. venture. Many of Canada's best women players, moreover, such as Christine Sinclair at the University of Portland, receive their training at American colleges. "Growing up the way I did and in Canada the way it is there are a lot of people that move, like my family, from other countries," Hargreaves says. "So there are a lot of South American families there. There's interest in football from I think the parents, so [for] the teenagers there are no possibilities, there are no leagues."

At the international level, the senior women's team continues to show progress while the men—who last qualified for the World Cup finals in 1986—slip in FIFA rankings. Further, the U-19 women's team barely lost to the USA in the final of the 2002 FIFA championship before 47,000 in Edmonton, Alberta. M. Ann Hall, in her treatment of Canadian women's soccer in Soccer, Women, Sexual Liberation (Frank Cass, 2004), mentions, too, the striking figure of 33,000 adult women playing the game. A strong adult women's competition exists even in Whitehorse, Yukon, where the First Nation Community recreation consultant, Charly Kelly, has a soccer-ball tattoo on her foot. Her six closest soccer friends, according to Hall, bear the same identifying marker.

Discussion starter: Is a joint league with the United States inevitable for development of football in Canada?

James McNally writes, 9 Dec 05: "Canada's own (American/Canadian) football league flounders when compared with the NFL. Only when Canadian clubs can play against serious opposition will there be any serious interest. I'm looking forward to the MLS expansion, but even so, there may not be enough of an audience, with everyone glued to Italian and English football on their televisions."

Page last updated on Wednesday, February 1, 2006 9:17 -0500 GMT.