Peddie plans soccer surge

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

The horns of thousands of cars adorned with green-white-red flags saluting Italy's World Cup triumph were blaring on Toronto streets at all hours a few weeks ago.

A Canadian flag rarely was seen.

Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., hopes that one of the billion-dollar corporation's teams one day will change that.

Sitting in his Air Canada Centre office, Peddie is convinced that one of his teams -- the Maple Leafs, Raptors or soccer's Toronto FC -- will reach the Holy Grail in its particular sport.

"We are making progress with the Leafs and Raptors, but we also have high hopes for our soccer team in Major League Soccer," he said. "When I looked at the soccer rankings, I realized that Canada is not even in the top 50. We plan to rectify that.

"We will pretty soon announce an internationally experienced coach. He and our scouts will then travel to Europe to check on Canadian players. We plan to sign seven or eight Canadians for our 18-man squad. They will play together in 32 league matches and could form the basis of a strong Canadian national team. That team, then, could work on improving our (soccer) reputation."

Peddie certainly has a nose for business, which is why MLSEL chairman Larry Tanenbaum and the Teachers Fund officials bank on his recommendations. That is based not only on his performance with MLSEL, but also on his business record with previous companies. He believes in all Major Soccer League partners. And what is not to believe in when that includes such well-heeled partners as Philip Anschutz and Lamar Hunt?

Anschutz, who owns the Los Angeles Kings and has shares in the Lakers, besides numerous other business companies, fell in love with soccer after watching the 1994 World Cup final, using two complimentary tickets. Since then, he has purchased four MLS teams and spent more than $100 million US to keep them above water.

Hunt, a mining magnate and founder of the American Football League, also owns multiple teams in MLS, a fact not lost on Peddie.

About meeting Anschutz, the reclusive patriarch of North American professional soccer, Peddie had this to say:

"Can you imagine sitting for hours with a man of such wealth, discussing every detail of the operation of the soccer league. The same thing happens with Lamar Hunt."

Peddie's vision lies beyond just the pro team. Toronto FC will have a development team that will attempt to keep young Canadian prospects on home turf, rather than have them go overseas to gain experience. He would be proudest if some of those Toronto FC players make Canada's World Cup team.

"Some writers in this city are xenophobic about soccer," Peddie said. "But with them or without them, soccer will be big in this city one day. We know it and that is why we became involved in its development. We don't expect any miracles from the soccer team in its first year of operation. We don't expect them to win the championship or even make the playoffs. But I know that they will be competitive."

Hopefully, the same will be said of his other two franchises who wouldn't mind some springtime horn-honking of their own.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

Montreal's Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, has finished his seventh book -- Inside Dope -- which will be on store shelves next month. Pound still insists that a large number of athletes -- hockey players, cyclists, soccer, baseball and football players -- are taking banned substances. "It is pretty pervasive in cycling when second-, third- and fourth-place finishers are caught," he says ... Every week, 50,000 viewers tune in to GOLTV. They are showing pro soccer games from Germany and, starting next month, will air games from Spain, Italy, Brazil, as well as English Premier League games from Liverpool and Arsenal.


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