New soccer home now a Pipe dream?

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

There's a hilarious scene in the movie Hanky Panky, circa 1982, where Gilda Radner and Gene Wilder are passengers in a small plane flying over the Grand Canyon when the pilot keels over, deader than Paul Martin's government. "He's dead!" Radner screams.

"No, he's just sleeping," says Wilder, eerily calm.

"He's dead!" Radner screams again.

"No, no, no," Wilder says, shaking his head, refusing to accept the obvious.

"Just sleeping."

Couldn't help but think of that scene yesterday as we listened to Kevan Pipe, COO of the Canadian Soccer Association, insisting that the York University stadium, a facility upon which Pipe and the CSA have a lot riding, will go forward as planned and on schedule.

Pipe's contention flies in the face of simple math. If the Argonauts, the original catalysts for this project, are pulling out, it will leave the project at least $20 million short of its $70-million initial price-tag.

No matter how deep in denial the CSA might be, the reality is that there is no one out there ready to pick up the slack. Could the stadium be downsized? Perhaps. But, at the end of the day, will York University, as well as the federal and provincial governments, still have the will to go ahead, even on a more modest proposal, without the Argos as the star tenant?

There are many compelling arguments for a soccer stadium of this size, especially in the country's largest city. But those arguments have never translated into hard currency. Soccer always has been forced to pin its expansion hopes on more commercially viable enterprises. Even on this project, so important to the future profile of the sport in the east, soccer's seed money is minimal, restricted to a $500,000 US grant from FIFA.

So much for the notion of a lovely little bandbox of a stadium for those warm CFL and soccer summer evenings. Apparently, when the SkyDome became the Rogers Centre, more than the name changed. Free rent can change your perception of a place in a hurry.

And, once again, soccer likely will take a direct kick in the head. The CSA has been trying for what seems like a generation now to get a toe-hold for major events in Eastern Canada, with a first-class venue.

Pipe is convinced the project will survive. He has to be convinced of that because his organization is on the hook to hold the 2007 FIFA world youth tournament and this stadium is one of the centrepieces of that event.

Indeed, the first telephone call Pipe fielded yesterday morning was from FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, word of the potential split in the stadium consortium having spread halfway around the globe overnight. Pipe was able to allay their fears for the moment, but nobody really knows where this project is headed without the Argos on board.

Pipe himself heard of the possibility of the Argos withdrawal from the project only late Thursday evening when he got a phone call from a York University official as he sat in an airplane on the tarmac at Pearson Airport, waiting to return to his home in Ottawa.

Until the Argos make a final statement on the matter, the rest of the partners are in a state of limbo. But the tone of the Argos statements to date would indicate it won't be long before they sever all ties with the York project.

And that will again leave the CSA dangling in the breeze, at the whim of university and government officials whose priorities may have changed. This is where the Golden Rule kicks in: Those who have the gold, make the rules.

Until soccer somehow has the financial wherewithal to stand on its own, the sport always will be a pawn in games controlled by bigger players.

In the movie, Gene Wilder finally overcame his denial, grabbed the plane's controls and wrestled it to the ground.

But this is not a movie. It's real. And so is the likelihood that the stadium deal is about to crash and the CSA will soon be looking for a new home for the beautiful game here in Canada.


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