Soccer group tackled

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

Apparently you don't want to take a poke at the football community around here.

That's pretty much what Senators owner Eugene Melnyk did last week when, in a meeting with the Sun's editorial board, he said he was betting $50 million (the price of an MLS expansion franchise) on whether soccer or CFL football would be around 25 years from now.

Melnyk didn't make it sound like he was dumping on the CFL, just that he believes soccer is the sport of the future and he was betting $50 million of his own coin (the MLS franchise fee is $40 million US) that there will be lots of Ottawans willing to fill a 20,000-seat soccer specific stadium adjacent to Scotiabank Place over the next few years.

As you might expect, Melnyk's take that soccer will outlive the CFL didn't go over well with the football stakeholders.

On the heels of a passionate rebuttal on the popularity and longevity of his league by CFL commissioner Mark Cohon last week, Football Canada, the guardians of the game in our country, stepped up to the plate to take its own swings yesterday.

CLARIFY MISCONCEPTIONS

"There's been some reference to football being yesterday's sport. We think it's important to clarify the misconceptions and misinformation about the strength of football in Canada. It's today's sport and tomorrow's sport," said Football Canada CEO Richard Munro at a press conference in which Football Canada threw its support (there's a surprise, huh?) behind the bid by the group fronted by Jeff Hunt to bring the CFL back to a revitalized Frank Clair Stadium at Lansdowne Park.

"The strength of football in Ottawa and Canada has never been stronger and the game is just exploding world wide."

The footballers are dismayed that Melnyk's vision for an outdoor stadium does not include the CFL option. Melnyk's proposed stadium will be soccer specific and he's made his feelings about Canadian pro football clear.

"We've been excluded," said Munro. "Football is not even part of the discussion there. (The Hunt proposal) is inclusive, not exclusive."

"Soccer has always been part of our thinking," said Hunt. "(Melnyk) has decided to go with a soccer-only solution. Our door is always open. We don't take a rigid position. We hope soccer will one day be part of Lansdowne Live."

Football Canada is celebrating its 125th anniversary and 2009 also represents the 135th anniversary of the match between McGill University and Harvard University, which is regarded as the genesis of modern-day football in North America (there is no truth that Mark Kosmos played in that game. I think he was red-shirted as a freshman).

PROUD OF HERITAGE

Like Cohon said of the CFL last week, Football Canada is proud of Canadian heritage and "its legacy of significant contribution to the cultural fabric of Canada," as it said in its literature handed out yesterday at the press conference.

There is no denying soccer's grassroots appeal in our country (about 870,000 total registered players in Canada according to the Canadian Soccer Association website), but football has been making its own gains, said Munro.

There are more than 400,000 participants, according to Football Canada, playing one of the sport's three disciplines: Tackle, flag and touch football.

"In 1994, we had 8,000 members in Quebec. Now we have 27,000-28,000," said Munro. "That's part of the reason there was such a great turnout for the Grey Cup in Montreal."

Both the Hunt and Melnyk groups are looking for about $80 million in funding for their stadium plans from the various levels of government. For that type of investment, all of the stakeholders in the future of sports and entertainment in our city deserve to have their voices heard.

We're going to have to live with the result for the next 30 years.


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