Say it with me: “Futbol.” Not soccer, not football. Futbol.
Edmonton better get used to it as it prepares to host 11 matches of the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup. Right now the attention is on Brazil, but June 6 marks exactly one year until the women’s opening game, held at Commonwealth Stadium. A countdown clock will be unveiled in City Hall on Friday.
“We have lots of high-level soccer coming to this city,” says Trish Zimmerman, general manager of the Edmonton FIFA 2015 committee. Of the six host cities, from Vancouver to Moncton, ours will host the most matches, plus games from the FIFA U-20 (under 20) Women’s World Cup in August and a match between Canada and Japan, the reigning champions, in October.
The city hasn’t hosted a major world event like it since the 2001 IAAF. The international athletics games were an embarrassment due to scant attendance and a dull downtown that had British media dubbing the city “Deadmonton” throughout.
But lots has changed, not just in terms of Edmonton’s cultural life, but the city and nation’s passion for the Beautiful Game.
Canadian soccer, football, futbol—whatever you prefer to call it—is on a precipice right now. Previous to 2008, Canadian matches drew fewer than 10,000 spectators; 10,000 or more is standard today. The country also now has three Major League Soccer teams, and who could forget Christine Sinclair and team Canada’s all-star showing at the 2012 Olympics?
The growing up of Canadian soccer, says FC Edmonton broadcast announcer and Plastic Pitch magazine editor Steven Sandor, has much to do with the success of the inaugural U-19 (now U-20) Women’s World Cup in 2002, held in Victoria, Vancouver and Edmonton. Another great showing at the 2007 U-20 men’s tournament, also held in Edmonton, proved to FIFA that this country and city can love the game.
“They [FIFA] weren’t expecting much,” says Sandor, who also edits Avenue magazine, “and then 50,000 people showed up. It was a crazy moment, like, ‘Maybe this country does have a support of soccer that we don’t know about.'”
Sandor explains that the early U-20 games were a process that led to a successful bid for the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup, but the end goal is hosting the 2026 World Cup. “We’re the only country that’s officially said we’re in it to win it,” he says.
By process of elimination (a continent can only host the World Cup once every 12 years and South America, its birthplace, will almost certainly want to the centennial 2030 tournament), it comes down to North America or Africa. Since Mexico has already hosted twice and the U.S. seems disinterested, that makes Canada North America’s frontrunner. Given Edmonton’s past successes, we’d almost certainly be a host city. We’ll know in 2018.
The only thing that could get in the way, says Sandor, is Canadian’s support of the 2015 women’s cup. “If the stadiums are half full, FIFA is going to say no [to 2026],” he says.
It’s not a concern for Zimmerman of the local FIFA committee. “Edmontonians, the history shows, love soccer and they love women’s soccer,” she says. “Let’s fill that stadium, let’s make it red, let’s show Edmontonians’ support the girls on the road to become champions.”