point counterpoint

As I write this, my housemates are watching the France-Greece quarterfinal of the 2004 European Championships in the room next to me, and the crowd noise is amazing to behold.

Throughout the tournament, I’ve been astounded by the passion and constant cheering and singing emanating from the bleachers. Flags wave, painted faces shine, and grown men and women weep and pray in the stands.

Europeans love their football—or soccer to us across the pond—and are very loud and uninhibited in showing it. There is a depth of history and tradition attached to the sport, old rivalries and fierce loves, that root the sport firmly in each nation’s own culture.

Soccer is to Europe as hockey is to Canada, and baseball is to the United States. On second thought, that analogy might not be quite right—I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone cry and/or pray at a hockey or baseball game.

There are many people who will watch soccer in North America, and there are some who appreciate hockey and baseball in Europe. But it’s too late to change which sport matters most to each.

The stereotypes are set; we picture European urchins kicking around a soccer ball, Canadians scrabbling for the puck on a frozen pond, and Americans clearing the street for impromptu baseball games. We are all locked into our identities.

Furthermore, soccer will never take hold of the North American consciousness that is accustomed to a certain level of entertainment in its sports.

When you attend an NBA game, different pop songs blare whenever play changes direction, and there are giveaways and announcements at every stoppage in play. Doesn’t say much for North American attention spans does it?

The same holds true for hockey games, though to a lesser degree. The play remains unspoiled, but one can still feel the constant gyrations to entertain the spectators when there’s a break in the action on the ice. Look! It’s Johnny Bower, giving away a telephone! Look! Carleton the Bear is beating up that opposing team’s fan! Isn’t that cool?

During soccer broadcasts, there are very few commercial breaks. There are no mascots, and there’s definitely no dance pack. European football fans don’t need anything to hook or entertain them—they live and die with every kick, every missed call. It’s just what they do.

But it will be difficult, in my humble opinion, to interest North Americans in the pace of this game when they are so used to the constant entertainment of their usual sporting spectacles.

More singing, perhaps?

--Megan Grittani-Livingston

Soccer in North America will never match the status it has on the international stage, however there are encouraging signs that the game can catch on in the overwhelmingly instant-gratification craving masses of our country.

To kick off, one need only look at the blanket coverage the 2004 Euro has enjoyed in Canada. TSN is showing all but four games, including repeats in the evening for those that miss the games live. On the radio, Toronto’s Fan 590 boasts they are “your Euro 2004 station,” without catching their tongue in their cheek. While it would be a handball to assume the coverage connotes widespread popularity, Euro 2004 has proven to be more than just an afternoon alternative to Dr. Phil. The coverage by major media outlets shows their confidence in a sport that is traditionally and rather simplistically dismissed by its North American detractors as “boring.” The media isn’t the only measure of soccer’s potential popularity in North America. Major League Soccer, the highest level of professional club competition south of the border, has continued to expand and has seen its ratings rise since its inception in 1996.

The league also scored a coup this past year in signing internationally coveted 14 year-old superstar-in-waiting Freddy Adu to a multiyear contract. Soccer in America will never be as popular as baseball or basketball, but if Adu emerges as an icon his play could draw those viewers who were previously indifferent about the sport, much the same way as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird did when they revived the flagging NBA in the mid 1980s.

Still you may ask, can the game ever come to our nation in a significant way live? MLS expansion to Toronto has already been discussed, and is foreseeable in the near-future. For now, Canadian soccer fans will have to settle for a Liverpool exhibition match at Skydome in July, and the recent World Cup qualifying match between Canada and Belize at Richardson stadium which drew more than 5,000 spectators.

Those who do not support the notion that soccer can ever catch on in Canada ignore the admirable development of grassroots programs —no pun intended—and the growth in popularity of the game with a younger generation of fans.

I recognize that soccer will never enjoy the same popularity as our national game, hockey, given the absence of tradition, but with some clever marketing and a new generation of fans growing up, it could capture the love of the nation.

--Gordon Miller

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.