Extreme passion. Both legal and otherwise.

The Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (allegedly) sexually assaulted a Canadian woman. In his official mansion. While discussing constitutional reform, of all things. Now, not only is such an offensive act (if the allegations are true) literally criminal, absolutely deplorable and in no way acceptable from anyone, it’s all just a little bit ridiculous, isn’t it? There’s nothing new about leaders abusing power, but this guy isn’t an Emperor of China, a Pharaoh of Egypt or even one of the more goggle-eyed viscounts swimming around the shallow end of our royal family’s gene pool. He’s the prime minister of what a country of under 115,000 people – a country that nobody has ever even heard of anyway. Imagine the mayor of Thunder Bay parading around like he was Caligula. It’s absurd.

The point, at long last, is that the Canadian national team is set to face off against St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the first round of World Cup qualifying on June 15th in Kingstown and June 20th in Montreal, and what better rallying cry to build a little public fervour for the match than the (alleged) defilement of a Canadian damsel by some power-mad brute? Aside from public condemnation, demands from our government for a formal apology and, of course, the appropriate legal action, we can get our own back on the pitch! Imagine if an American President had gotten a bit handsy with a Canadian woman – the bad blood we’d harbour would all come gushing out in the next Olympic hockey game, wouldn’t it? I don’t mean to trivialize this (alleged) crime, but sporting rivalries of great passion are borne of less than this.

I only bring this up because there’s an endemic lack of passion for Canadian soccer. Now, I don’t want to go off on a rant here (yes I do), but the biggest problem with Canadian soccer is that Canada doesn’t care. Not that individuals don’t care – there are many who truly bleed red and white for our national team – but there’s no national mobilization behind the team like there is with hockey. And it’s a shame.

For the most part, I’m quite happy to blame the CSA. Our national team gets no exposure, plays far too few matches to gel as a side and gets less popular attention than curling (which is just a ridiculous excuse for a sport, and we all know it). When the team does play, the games are criminally underpromoted, so nobody notices anyway (take last week’s friendlies against Brazil and Panama. The Brazil match was in Seattle, and the South Americans mustered the bigger fan presence to a game where Canada actually held it’s own against the world number two. The Panama match? Well, it ended at 2-2. Not that you would know that – it wasn’t even open to the public. Can you imagine the public outcry if England played a match against a local rival – say, France – but no tickets were sold and the match wasn’t televised? Why, they’d burn Wembley to the ground.). Even the CSA’s website is crap: just try and find a comprehensive list of the pool of players from which our current national team is drawn, complete with bios. It’s easier to find out how our under-12 girls team fared at their last tournament in Des Moines.

The other big problem, I’m sorry to say, is with the fans. All too often Canadians choose to identify with – and support – the national team of whatever country their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents came from, then their own home and native land. Now, there’s nothing wrong with respecting one’s heritage, but have respect for the country of your birth. Personally, I support England and Scotland, but if Canada ever took the field against them, or even competed in the same tournament as them, I’d be first in line to sing “Bend Over Like Beckham.”

I really don’t want to sound like some rabid nationalist, but I just can’t agree with the idea that it’s OK for Canadians to cheer against Canada. I was at September’s 1-1 draw against Costa Rica in Toronto and was shocked to find that the crowd was split more or less evenly between Costa Rican fans and Canadian fans. Embarassed even. Toronto’s a cosmopolitan city, but I doubt that a few thousand native-born Costa Ricans are holed up in somewhere in Hogtown. I suspect that a lot of their fans are people with some tenuous link to Latin America, who have chosen not to support Canada.

It’s a PR problem, I suppose – a marketing problem in getting the soccer-mad masses in Toronto to come out for the boys in red. Maybe the CSA should let MLSE handle its promotions; Toronto FC sells out the season in minutes and the buzz surrounding their home games is both infectious and enthralling.

In the end, we’re about to play an important match against a country who’s Prime Minister has (allegedly) committed a heinous and monstrous crime against a Canadian woman. Coming, as it is, at a time when Canada really needs to step up and support its team, I think this is a crucial moment to begin a crucial qualifying campaign. If, as a country, we can’t get behind this series, is all lost for Canadian soccer?

Just to prove I’m not making this up:

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