What may be one of the most important decisions for soccer in Canada was made this week.
The 2007 world under-20 soccer championship was awarded to Canada.
It goes much further than the staging of a world-class tournament -- and the under-20 championship is all that.
But the decision to award the tournament to Canada ensures federal and provincial funding of $35-million for the construction of an $80-million outdoor facility that will be the home of the Toronto Argos and the University of Toronto football team.
Football fans are jumping for joy. The Argonauts come out big winners. They desperately needed a 25,000 seat stadium that emphasizes intimacy. The SkyDome doesn't cut it in terms of rent or attendance. The Montreal Alouettes have proven with their move to Molson Stadium that it's better to create a demand for tickets than having too many.
It's also good news for the University of Toronto which was in desperate need of a modern facility to revitalize a sagging athletic program, particularly football.
And this stadium is just what the doctor ordered for soccer in this province.
The lack of a quality soccer facility in Canada's largest city was an embarrassment. Varsity Stadium was a football stadium, but it was also an excellent venue for soccer. It was small, easily accessible and had a grass field. It was the site of numerous international matches, friendlies and otherwise.
But over the years major soccer events moved away from the Big Smoke because it became the Big Stink. They would go to Edmonton or Vancouver, cities that had facilities which were soccer- friendly.
Canada's national soccer teams at all levels have made a habit of playing international games in those other cities. They've also played games in Kingston and Ottawa. Anywhere its seems, other than Toronto. Part of the reason was the lack of a stadium. The other problem revolved around the makeup of Toronto. With the ethnically diverse makeup of Toronto, Canadian national team members often found themselves feeling like the visiting team even though they were playing at home.
Toronto used to be the true centre of the Canadian soccer universe.
Now, by June 2006, Toronto will have a perfect soccer venue. The city will be able to hold international games, high-calibre youth international soccer games, Ontario Cups, national championships and a variety of other high profile events. While major soccer finals won't be held in this new stadium because FIFA rules usually require stadiums to have a seating capacity of more than 30,000 for tournament finals, soccer will return to Toronto in a big way.
It also helps that FIFA has relaxed its standards on playing games on artificial turf. It used to be FIFA only allowed friendlies to be played on artificial turf. Now, depending on the type of surface, FIFA sanctions games that count to be played on phoney grass.
The tournament for players under 20 is held every two years. It features 24 countries and 52 games over three weeks and will be held in six cities across Canada. Canada has qualified six times with its 2003 team making the quarterfinals. Canada has an automatic berth in the 2007 field.