Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Canada At The Under-20s

With things being relatively quiet in the world of sports – we are taking a break from early morning updates, in other words – we are going to take full advantage of a slow workday and Tilt’s workplace Internet access.

We’ve had 24 hours to reflect on our statement that Canada’s participation at the FIFA Under-20 World Championship was a complete embarrassment – while our opinion was harsh, we’re standing by it.

However, while Canadian football fans (yes, we are referring to it as football) and media have been quick to point the finger of blame at Dale Mitchell, (Canada’s manager), with claims have ranged from failing to inspire his players to poor tactical decisions, we would like to look at it from a different angle.

In our humble opinion, the finger of blame should be pointed directly at the Canadian Soccer Association and the world’s governing body FIFA, for their decision to host the tournament in Canada.

We’ll start off with a look at FIFA. The organization’s mandate has always been to promote football around the world – with this philosophy the belief that in order to grow the game, you have to expose it in areas where it may not be the sport of choice. FIFA’s constitution dictates that tournaments must be held in each of the qualifying zones on a rotational basis. With Mexico and the U.S. having hosted World Cup tournaments in the past – it was decided that Canada would be a worthy host on behalf of CONCACAF.

FIFA has had a history of awarding tournaments to countries that would have a hard time qualifying for their tournaments on their own merits – so what better way to generate interest/exposure in a particular region than giving a world tournament to a country that really has no business being at the dance to begin with.

FIFA will point to the record number of fans attending this tournament as an indication of the tournament’s success and their belief that football’s popularity in Canada is on the rise. This of course is false – the majority of the record setting number of fans attending the tournament are there to follow teams other than Canada. Large immigrant populations in Canada are turning out to see kids from their home country – Portugal, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have been drawing huge crowds. The fact of the matter is that most of these fans would have little to no interest in attending North American “professional” football were it not an international tournament – apologies to the rabid fans of Toronto FC, we’re giving you three years before you stop going to see MLS games.

FIFA will ignore the fact that a host country was so overmatched in the tournament, instead pointing to the interest generated by the tournament – in other words, as long as it makes money, it is all they care about.

The Canadian Soccer Association deserves the majority of blame for this failure. The men’s national soccer program has not done a thing of consequence in years to distinguish itself or give any indication that they could be competitive in a tournament like this. So why host an international tournament for the whole world to see how weak your program is?

The CSA has fallen into the same trap the United States Soccer Federation has fallen into – interpreting successful results in CONCACAF as a measure of readiness to take on the world. It is time these clowns running the CSA see CONCACAF for what it is – likely the second weakest qualifying zone in the world. Winning in CONCACAF gives you the distinction of being the strongest of the weakest – it should not be thought to be your right of passage to play with the world’s best.

Canada would likely not have qualified for the tournament had it been hosted in any other CONCACAF country; and still, they decided to host this tournament with little to no pedigree at the Under 20 level – including two past appearances where the side failed to register a goal.

Canada came into the tournament boasting about some exciting young players on the squad, obviously oblivious to the best young players from around the world and how far ahead of the game they are on Canada’s young stars. Many of the Under 20’s at the tournament play professionally in some of the world’s best domestic leagues – or are on their way to being signed. Canada’s young stars aren’t even close to that level – with the exception of one or two.

The CSA’s decision to challenge their young players to take the pitch against the world’s best was akin to herding cattle to a meat processing plant – it was a slaughter waiting to happen. Canada should have first earned its way into hosting a tournament – a quarter-final appearance in an international world tournament would have been a good measuring stick. Qualifying out of CONCACAF only to get bounced after the opening round is not a sign of readiness.

We are not blaming the players who took the field wearing Canada’s colours – they were out there giving their best for their country; but you can’t ask these guys to compete against kids that have grown up playing the game, 365 days a year. We’ve talked about this before, and we hate to bring it up here when we are trying not to run down the kids playing for their country.

What it also comes down to is that the level of athletic ability can’t be compared. In Europe and South America, the kids playing football are considered Tier 1 athletes in their country – football is the first sport of choice and with the money tied to it, it attracts the country’s strongest and best athletes.

In Canada and the U.S., we would argue that the athletes are more in the range of Tier 2 to Tier 3 athletes. The best athletes in North America are drawn to sports with professional leagues that pay big dollars - North American football, baseball, basketball and hockey. We are not criticizing the athletic ability of the kids taking the pitch – just trying to provide an explanation on why they seem to be so overmatched in international play.

From our perspective that Canadian Soccer Association let the national program and Canadian football fans down by entering their team into a tournament where the chances of them succeeding were slim to none – they embarrassed these kids on in front of a world wide audience. The question we have is simple.

If you were a kid growing up in Canada – and you saw your team humiliated to the extent Canada was…would you really be thinking that you wanted to dedicate yourself to a sport that your country would be considered a bit of a joke?

The CSA’s decision to host this tournament may have done more to set football back than anything else.

That’s it for today gang – thanks for taking the time to check in if you made it this far. Have a great one peeps.

Hazel, I hope things are groovy in your world.

Pogue Out.

P.S. special thanks to Tilt for posting.


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