Soccer fans hurt the most after being overlooked by FIFA

There are few things Edmonton residents love more than their football. Every time there is a game at Commonwealth Stadium, thousands of spectators come to watch.

The FIFA qualifier was no exception – Commonwealth was almost full even in sub-zero temperatures. No matter how terrible the weather, Edmonton residents are rallying to support our teams.

Therefore, when we found out that we had not been selected as Canada’s host city for the World Cup, the news was met with disappointment. Albertans were sure our capital would host at least a few games.

In North America, 16 cities have the opportunity to host. The US will host 60 games, with Mexico and Canada hosting 10 each. Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton have each submitted bids, with Alberta pledged $110 million to host. However, Vancouver and Toronto were preferred to Edmonton for the Canadian Games.

Albertans are upset by this loss for many reasons. Toronto and Vancouver, which are major tourist destinations, can host 10 games between the two. Tourism would have increased exponentially if FIFA had chosen Edmonton as the host city. To be next to these cities on the world stage would have put Edmonton on the map. How many future opportunities would hosting have secured for us? This was a huge opportunity for Edmonton to capitalize on both the short and long term.

However, I don’t think the lost profit was the biggest blow. The cultural loss far outweighs the economic benefits of hosting the World Cup.

Alberta has always been a sports-loving province – with Edmonton as the center of it all. Like most Canadians, Edmontonians are hockey fans in the winter, with Rogers Place almost fully booked when the Oilers play. But as soon as it gets warmer, we retire our skates in favor of the soccer field.

For many, football is a mainstay of the community. After all, we are first and foremost a football town, with thousands of children playing each year and many continuing into adulthood. Despite being a frozen tundra 10 months of the year, many children choose to play soccer over hockey, especially those immigrating to Canada. More and more young people are choosing football over our national sport, myself included.

I’ve been a soccer player for almost 16 years. Like most Canadians, I started out as an adorable timbit playing in a school field, picking more dandelions than scoring. Eventually I became a strong defender on a women’s team and played both indoor and outdoor soccer. Football was a unifying element in my family and we all got together to see every game we could.

Football is very important to me as it took up so much of my free time growing up. Whenever the Canada women’s team had a game in Edmonton, I was almost guaranteed to watch. When I heard that our boys were playing a FIFA qualifier in Edmonton, I knew I had to be there.

Seeing the best players in your sport defeat other teams is an incredible feeling. Even if you’re not a sports fanatic, attending a World Cup game can make you one. I didn’t start idolizing players like Christine Sinclair until I saw her play in person. It’s a shame that so many young players don’t experience that.

Nothing can top the immense pride I felt in my sport, my city and my country as we defeated Mexico for the first time in over 20 years. Surrounded by nearly 45,000 of my fellow Canadians, I felt as if I was witnessing a monumental moment in Canadian history. Even though it was snowing and I was wearing at least three pairs of socks, I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else. When we won it felt like the world stopped with the screams and cheers of thousands of people.

The disappointment I feel now, like many Albertans, runs deep. It feels like we lost something so close to the finish line.

The Canada men’s team has not qualified for FIFA since 1986. Hosting FIFA would have been the event of a lifetime even if our team hadn’t been there.

In the past, Commonwealth Stadium has hosted many major events, including several FIFA matches. Imagine the impact hosting such a major global football event would have had on a whole new generation of football fans and players.

Some remember Canada’s last FIFA qualification in 1986. Others have never had the opportunity to see our men’s team qualify for FIFA let alone play a game. If Albertans had the opportunity to see a FIFA game at our home stadium, we could have seen a real shift in support. Instead of Oilers flags and jerseys, we could have seen waves of merchandise for our national soccer team.

After we qualified for the World Cup, the Canadians really started paying attention to and believing in our men’s team. Canadians have long accepted that our women’s team won, but our men often didn’t.

John Herdman, current men’s coach, recognized the change in mentality in Canada after our monumental win over Jamaica.

“I think this country never believed in us… [but] they believe now,” he said.

Albertans have always believed in our national soccer teams, both winning and losing. It’s a shame that now that all of Canada knows the strength and power of football, the fans couldn’t see our boys win from the start.

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