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Time for Canada to up its game, consider hosting World Cup

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Is Canada ready for a truly national conversation about soccer?

About something more close to home than the popular European leagues, more widespread than the population pockets supporting Major League Soccer franchises, more penetrating than the technical, albeit important, language presented in the Canadian Soccer Association's latest strategic plan?

Is Canada, to get to the point, ready to discuss the hosting of a FIFA World Cup?

CSA president Victor Montagliani thinks so, and after presenting his organization's four-year scheme on Thursday (a document entitled "Leading a Soccer Nation" that prioritizes investment in technical leadership, consistent performances from the national teams, growing the game at the grassroots and governing the professional side of the sport) he revealed Canada would be bidding to host the 2026 instalment of soccer's most prestigious tournament.

"We're the only G-8 nation to not host the World Cup," he said, adding, "We've hosted almost every other event. I think it's time for Canada to step up to that plate."

This country has, indeed, staged both the Under-17 World Cup and Under-20 World Cup and will be hosting the 2014 Under-20 Women's World Cup in August and the Women's World Cup in 2015.

The CSA has shown it quite clearly knows how to play by FIFA's rules, although the bidding process for a men's World Cup would be an undertaking of rather more colossal proportions.

For now, however, the generation of a bid -- likely by 2018 -- and the politicking to actually win the rights are mutually exclusive, and in that context the undertaking of the bid, itself, can only be helpful to every level of the sport in Canada, as well as to social factors without a direct connection to soccer.

For example, the spotlight that shines over other countries with World Cup ambitions would inevitably train over these lands, perhaps illuminating some things this country has typically preferred to keep in the shadows.

As recently as October the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples stated that "Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country," and an unemployment rate more than double the national average, third-world conditions on reserves and a legacy of residential schools would seem to support his assessment.

These things matter when prizes such as the World Cup are at stake. Just ask the Australians, whose record on the Indigenous file was called into question during their bid for the 2022 rights.

It's all well and good to go trumpeting from the moral high ground when major events go to places like Russia and Qatar.

But what about a "place like Canada?" Is this country prepared for such a frank, even hostile, exercise in scrutiny?

No doubt it would be a very useful piece of dialogue, and more specifically to soccer a discussion regarding governance would be similarly constructive.

The more centrally soccer is administrated in Canada the better. And nothing would get every stakeholder from every province and territory pulling in the same direction quite like the composition of a World Cup bid.

It doesn't take a lot of thought-extrapolation to link such enthusiasm to grassroots development, especially if the CSA was able to package its World Cup strategy in a way that made everyone from youth players to parents, coaches and sponsors feel a part of the process.

Granted, a World Cup bid begins with a lot of talk, and to that end the skeptics will remain skeptical until the document is sitting on a desk in Zurich while the FIFA executive committee votes on the tournament's destination.

But by that point, win or lose, Canada will have had a national conversation well worth its time.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2014 C8

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