Earlier in September, another Canadian journey to the world's biggest sporting event, the men's soccer World Cup, came to an end. Canada failed to progress to the final qualifying round trailing behind Mexico and Honduras. Being placed in an embarrassing 104th position in FIFA's national teams' ranking, Canada needs to analyse the reasons for failure. This is the first episode of a series based on a year-long investigation trying to answer one question: Why is Canada doing so bad at men's soccer?
Episode 1: Analyzing failure starts now
Many Canadians still remember the day in 2001, when soccer star Owen Hargreaves, a Calgary native, decided to represent England, giving up on the country he was born and raised in. Hargreaves went on to play for England in two FIFA World Cups and win two European Champions League titles along the way.
Some people blamed Canada for not recruiting him for its men's national team program earlier. Others blamed Hargreaves for his disloyalty. Regardless of who is to blame, many years have passed since Hargreaves' departure and Canada's men's soccer program is yet to produce anyone of his calibre.
Interviews with soccer officials, coaches, players and consultants reveal a system that is struggling to produce top talent, although changes are either underway or under consideration.
This series will talk about why the Canadian men's national team today ranks 104th in the world and haven't reached the World Cup since 1986, despite the fact that soccer is the biggest participant sport among Canadian children.
The upcoming episodes will discuss:
* Inadequate coaching, the shortage of high-level competition and expensive soccer academies and how they hold talented players back.
* The lack of a Canadian professional soccer league and how it left Canadian players competing for limited international spots in the U.S.-based Major League Soccer (MLS).
* The launch of the Long Term Player Development program, and how the Canadian Soccer Association took a step forward from previous years, with the application process still being slow.
But before we get into that, let's look at the numbers.
Soccer is, in fact, Canada's most popular game:
According to the 2010 Canadian Heritage research on sports participation, soccer is the most practised sport among Canadian children between the ages of five and 14. Forty-two per cent of Canadian children who participate in sports play soccer. Only 22 per cent play hockey, the nation's official winter sport.
According to the latest FIFA census, one in 41 Canadians is enrolled in the sport at some level. By comparison, that percentage is just below competitive soccer countries such as England and France.
In addition to participating in soccer, Canadians also watch the beautiful game on television in record-breaking numbers. A record of 4.93 million Canadians tuned into the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) channel to watch the FIFA World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in July 2014. The average viewership for the Stanley Cup hockey finals between the Rangers and the Kings that same summer was 2.72 million per game.
During the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, 29,000 tickets were sold to Canadians, more than any nationality outside of the 32 qualified teams.
On March 25, when Canada hosted Mexico in Vancouver for the men's 2018 World Cup qualifying game, 54,798 people attended. It was the largest attended national team event in any sport in the history of the nation.