Yesterday, the world watched as the six host cities for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup were announced. While some in the media are furious at Toronto taking a pass because of the 2015 Pan American Games, there is in my opinion an even greater omission: Calgary.
The so-called Heart of the New West, the home of the Calgary Stampede, a so-called world class city, will not play a part in the showpiece event of international women's soccer. Heck, we didn't even mount a bid -- it's like we didn't even realize (or potentially care) that such an event was coming to Canada.
Ever since Zimbabwe dropped out of the running for the 2015 tournament early last year (which gave us the win by default), there has been very little talk around town about potentially getting involved with the tournament. In fact, this was the only talk on Twitter (after a search on Google), where Calgary's mayor Naheed Nenshi is most accessible:
Since then, there has been no talk whatsoever -- the issue was never brought up in City Council, nor was hair nor hide heard from this idea ever since. By that time, the city was busy putting the last touches on a way overdue $25 million bridge designed by a Spaniard, while finishing up the bidding to be crowned the Cultural Capital of Canada in 2012 (a title that the city ultimately ended up sharing with the Niagara Region).
We may not have a great history of professional soccer in the city, but the amateur game is flourishing (remembering that soccer is the most participated in sport in Canada), and the city has produced many excellent footballers both male and female: Taryn Swiatek, Christine Latham and Owen Hargreaves (also known to some as "Judas") -- even a certain Chris Kooy of FC Edmonton cut his teeth on a certain team called the Calgary Mustangs, along with a number of Calgary products.
By ignoring or forgetting the fact that the 2015 Women's World Cup is coming to Canada, Calgary has missed a chance to inspire a new generation. People talk about our children needing more exercise, and if I remember correctly, there was a rather interesting spike in baseball interest after the Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993 -- our children will not get to see games first hand, and be inspired to become soccer superstars, which contrary to local belief, is not a bad thing.
We have also missed a golden opportunity to prove ourselves; the 1988 Winter Olympics are a distant memory, and while there is absolutely no problem with hanging onto that legacy, we have missed a chance to prove that we can also be a city for summer sport; if and when FIFA does award the Men's World Cup (one of the most watched events on television) to Canada, we may find ourselves hard pressed to find a way to justify being selected as a host city.
McMahon Stadium does indeed present a challenge. The venue is over 50 years old, but it has been renovated twice within the last 20 years -- even if we weren't able to get a new stadium in, a good thorough renovation of the stadium could have served as an excellent base for not only a bid for the 2015 World Cup, but for soccer's future in the city. And money should be no excuse: the Stampeders were willing to spend a million dollars just to revamp their locker rooms.
But the greatest travesty in all of this, is the inaction of local soccer authorities (and there are a number of major clubs, including the Blizzard, the Rangers and the Foothills) -- there was no lobbying from the local soccer clubs, and no champion in the corporate field. It's as if we accept that big league or international soccer will never, ever work, nor will anyone attend -- and that's a defeatist attitude that runs against our city's "can-do" attitude, and certainly runs counter to Calgary's attempts to make itself a world class city. (Plus, think of the tourist dollars we've missed, too.)
I close this piece with a challenge to the City of Calgary: its citizens, its corporate sector, its City Council, its Mayor...2015 is one chance we can't pass up. Put down the hockey sticks, and let's make the best of whatever we can get -- if there is a national team that needs a base (there will inevitably be teams that will be playing in Edmonton), don't turn them away: open our city to them, bring teams in for pre-tournament warm up games, and let them in turn inspire our youth.
Plus, we can't ever let such an event get away from us, ever again.