Last week we talked about the potential for a pro soccer league to operate within Canada. Such a thought remains a pipe dream for now. Even the biggest proponents of women’s soccer in Canada understand that there are massive challenges that would face such a project, not the least of which being the sheer size of this country.
Those who remain convinced in the possibility point to the 2014/2015 FIFA U-20/FIFA World Cup as being the impetus for such a project — the momentum of those tournaments creating the push that is needed.
Such thinking is understandable, if, perhaps, wishful. The blunt truth is there is little evidence to suggest that a World Cup alone is enough to make a country’s sports fans desire a pro women’s league. Certainly the lessons learned in the United States after the summer of 1999 must be considered. Even if the tournament ends with Christine Sinclair standing in confetti there is simply no guarantees that the good vibe will last much beyond the end of the summer.
Unless there is a base to build upon, of course. And, this is where Canadian soccer officials have constantly failed the sport. To borrow an analogy from another sport, Canadians are too often looking for the grand slam before getting any runners on base.
If there is to be any chance for success we need to start working the count now to set things up for the big at-bat in two and a half years.
A good place to start would be to borrow from something that the men are currently doing and creating a top level Canadian championship tournament that appeals and excites the grassroots.
The men’s Canadian Championship is a relatively young tournament, having started just five seasons ago. However, the trophy they play for, the Voyageurs Cup, has been in play since 2002.
The Voyageurs Cup has a neat history and one that could be a lesson for fans of the women’s game. It was conceived and paid for by fans in Canada at a time when no one official in Canada was willing to take a risk on men’s pro soccer. The fans awarded the trophy to the team that had the best record against other Canadian teams in a pre-existing event – at that time USL’s A-League.
A brief attempt to create a women’s version ended after a couple season’s when the logistics of it became too difficult to manage.
At first the Canadian men’s teams paid little attention to the fan-driven event, but as the years passed it gained a greater traction. Eventually the little trophy the fans bought became an important part of the soccer calendar in Canada, with the winners gaining a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.
The success of the Voyageurs Cup is an important reminder that grassroots efforts matter. Additionally, it illustrates that there needs to be a similar competition for women, especially when one factors in the rumors of two Canadian NWSL teams that could be on the horizon.
The challenges of starting a professional women’s league in any country are numerous, but that doesn’t mean that supporters of the game should give up. There are lots of ways to improve the standing of women’s soccer in Canada and creating a Canadian championship is one and one that doesn’t necessarily require a league first.
It’s time to bring back the Voyageurs Cup for women.