Footie kicking its way back

This week's reporter column looks at the popular sport of soccer.

One of the most popular sports in the world is seeing a resurgence.

It likely didn’t take you long to figure out that sport was football or as North Americans call it, soccer.

Locally, the number of players taking up what is better known to most as the ‘beautiful’ game has increased substantially in recent years just as it has throughout Alberta and across the country.

The reasons behind it are many and simple to explain costs to outfit a child are minimal to start with; registration isn’t nearly as high was some other sports; you can simply play for fun in a lot of places; and, even if you move up to more and more competitive levels the expenses are still relatively reasonable.

It also helps that the game is played around the world from rich affluent countries like the United States (that still haven’t managed to win a significant championship on the men’s side) to some of the poorest countries such as Congo and tiny nations like Iceland.

With that kind of exposure, combined with Canada’s multicultural society, it’s no wonder this country’s sports media have taken their coverage of soccer to the next level over the last few years.

It used to be the only time you could see soccer was during the Summer Olympics, any World Cup or if Canada happened to be playing though usually only on home soil.

Now, it’s a completely different story.

There’s games from the English Premier League dominating several channels nearly all day on most weekends during their season. You can catch Major League Soccer matches involving the three Canadian franchises Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal almost every week and even the lesser lights of the NASL from Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver are beginning to get some air time on the regular sports channels instead being relegated to their online broadcasts.

And this has even extended to one of the largest, and probably the most watched soccer championship in the world the European championship that began recently.

TSN is broadcasting every game of Euro 2016, marking the first time this has taken place on Canadian television. Granted, they now have five channels available to them and lost their national broadcast rights for the National Hockey League two years ago, which provides more of an opportunity to televise the entire championship in addition to having the money to pay for it.

Toss in the fact that Canada is populated with either direct descendants from most of the nations competing or those that have immigrated from those countries over the last few decades, and you have a uniquely captivated audience for the product who are passionate about their former country and the sport.

While the numbers for the opening round of games are still being tabulated, it wouldn’t come as a shock to see audience numbers for some games far in excess of those that have posted records for watching the Stanley Cup playoffs from some seasons ago.

It also hasn’t hurt that Canadian women’s soccer including that bronze medal at the London 2012 Summer Olympics has boosted the game’s profile to young girls like never before.

So finally, with some changes to the way things are done by Canada Soccer and its provincial chapters all the way down to the local association levels, it seems soccer is managing to take advantage of all that good exposure to gain back some of the support the sport had a couple decades ago.

However, that isn’t to say all is well in soccer.

From the disastrous fraud and bribery scandals currently plaguing the sport’s world governing body FIFA to hooliganism and rioting continuing to mare events such Euro 2016 to parents of players on Under-10 teams being tossed out of soccer pitches at the local level for going after officials, there remains issues in the sport that need to be dealt with and swiftly.

In soccer’s defence, FIFA has dismissed in disgrace mind you several high-ranking officials with the legal system now getting involved; countries are taking measures to ban and even in some case throw in prison those that participate in violent acts at matches or soccer tournaments; and the local and provincial bodies are instituting harsh measures to deal with reports of abuse.

Overall, that’s a large part of the why the world’s largest sport is continuing to grow in a nation that only sees green fields for less than half the year.

But that is, just an observation.