Is everyone joining us on the ‘Road to 2026’?

The Canada Soccer Podcast hosted by Jason DeVos, Director of Soccer Development has been an enjoyable listen during the course of this pandemic. New podcasts released each Friday evening have become a staple of my Saturday morning as I listed to a wide range of guests sharing their experiences during this time from different levels of soccer and always introduced with an insightful look into their backgrounds. It was great to hear Canada Para Soccer Head Coach Drew Ferguson in the latest Episode #14, and prior to that a wonderful tribute to former Ontario Soccer Director of Operations Gary Miller in Episode #4.

From a strategic perspective, and in understanding the potential growth and development of disability soccer the most insightful for me has been the round-table discussion chaired by Jason with guests Victor Montagliani (CONCACAF President and FIFA Vice President), Steven Reed (Canada Soccer President) and Peter Montopoli (Canada Soccer General Secretary). The full podcast can be found Episode #7.

The journey to the hosting of the 2026 World Cup is a fascinating story that begins back in 2001 and the hosting of a successful CONCACAF U20 Women’s Championship on Canadian soil. This led to the record-breaking U20 Men’s World Cup in 2007 and then the U20 Women’s World Cup in 2014 that proved a successful test event for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The 2015 tournament broke numerous records including most attendees for a tournament outside the Men’s World Cup, TV viewing figures across the globe and the first use of goal line technology at this level. Jason’s guests tell this story as an extensive series of meetings and meals across the globe. President Steve Reid described the legacy of these earlier events as a ‘taste of what we could do….engaging with the people they needed to from municipal to federal government……and the unbelievable success of hosting the Women’s World Cup’ while Peter Montopoli explained that hosting an event like the FIFA World Cup is much more than just marketing, it’s about, “Building culture and another level beyond jerseys”.

Jason DeVos shared openly that he has “Never been more excited about our sport than I am now” and on some levels I couldn’t agree more. There are many great things happening in Canada when it comes to soccer from a reinvigorated coach education pathway, to the growing talent pool (Jonathan David, Jessie Fleming and ‘Phonzie‘ to name a few) to the ‘joined up’ development of professional soccer through leagues including MLS, CPL and League1 Ontario. As Jason pointed out, the ‘United’ World Cup is just ‘a short 6 years away’ and from my perspective there is plenty more to be done to truly reflect the worlds most popular sport in our communities.

Two comments specifically resonated with me. The first was made by Victor Montagliani who noted that ‘We have to think big, we need people that push and push and push, we can’t hide behind excuses, big thinking in grassroots, in coaching’. Thinking big is something Canadians do brilliantly, from Canadarm to the cardiac pacemaker, with a favorite example of mine – Terry Fox. In Terry we saw someone think big and redefine what it means to have a purpose and a vision, establishing a legacy well beyond anything he may have dreamed. My big thinking would see an accessible soccer program in every community in Canada. With festivals and competition at every level for athletes with a disability and a coach education stream running parallel to our current program and supporting coaches starting their journey in pan-disability soccer or looking to specialize further up the stream. The simplicity of this development is based on the fact:

1. The structure already exists from Club to Province and from Coach to Player, and we would simply establish programs and education with a disability lens.

2. Many countries have forged the way across various disability groups and we have plenty of great examples to learn from in building our own Canada model.

3. Montagliani’s quote to “push and push and push” is also poignant. We’ve seen a steady increase in Club programs and Provincial awareness in the past 10 years with a gentle push – imagine what that could look like with a meaningful strategy.

The second was one that I’ve heard Peter Montopoli mention before during an interview and while I didn’t pay it much thought the first time, when I heard it repeated I felt this was really telling. Peter spoke about the numerous meetings that had been held across the world during the delegations visits to each Confederation and some national associations. Time and time again people wanted to speak with the Mexican representative because of their history in world football, while they would want to talk with the US delegate about the mighty US dollar. With Peter or the Canadian representative it was about ‘humanity and that was where Canada came in, Canada was always what they said, that they have a relative, that they have a friend, they have somebody……and that they are coming to Canada before they go to US or Mexico because it was more important to them’. ‘To me I felt Canadiana and every-time I went in that room that flag was wrapped around my shoulders and that’s what I heard them say to us, that Canada was so important to this bid because it was important to them’.

So the road is wide open for this adventure and I sincerely hope over the coming 6 years it will be open to all. Jason described it as ‘The journey, not the final destination’ and I love this philosophy. As we’ve seen with the previous success that Canada Soccer has had in 2001, 2007, 2014 and 2015 this is an ongoing journey driving a change in the perception of Canada has a hockey nation. We will be the first FIFA Member Association to have posted World Cup’s at every level for both men and women, just imagine where the next level of soccer development can take us when we develop opportunities for everyone in our communities.

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