November 09, 2006

A Pipe Dream

In Canada, if you don’t deliver in 21 years, you’re out of luck. We’re tough that way.

Such was the case with Kevin Pipe, relived from his duties as Chief Operating Officer of the CSA last week. The interesting thing about this isn’t that Pipe was let go--he was more or less seen as the devil by the few people in this country who actually care about the sport domestically.

No, what’s amazing is that the bloated, bickering, not-interested-in-anything-unless-it-benefits-themselves bureaucracy that runs Canadian soccer actually had the gumption to do something.

During the 21 years that Pipe ran things, soccer grew from a niche sport played by the children of immigrants, to something much bigger. As you likely have heard, there are more people registered in soccer in Canada that there are people registered in hockey (a misleading statistic and a topic for another day).

However, the performance of the Canadian national team went from playing in the World Cup, to being ranked a bit behind Oman in the men’s ranking (Women’s soccer is doing much better, but Canada’s performance has slipped there in recent years as well).

Despite that freefall, Pipe remained. During the last two decades, if pressed, he would talk about the participation rates and would lament the lack of investment in the game by corporate Canada. He--and thre CSA--rarely took any blame him/themselves.

So, you can understand how stunned people were when Pipe’s firing was announced. “No,” people said, “The CSA can’t be looking in the mirror, can it?”

It’s hard to say, but it is clear that something had to give. The purpose of an organization like the CSA is to produce, develop and foster elite teams. The failure of the men’s national team to qualify for the World Cup during a time when the participation rates in the sport was skyrocketing is, if not unacceptable, then at least exceptionally hard to understand.

And make no mistake. Making a World Cup would benefit everyone, from the four-year-olds chasing butterflies on your neighbourhood pitch, to the elite kid looking to play at a high-level without having to leave the country.

Is firing Kevin Pipe the magic bullet? No, but bringing in a fresh face is a start.

That is if the CSA is interested in a truly fresh face. That's not something that should be taken for granted.

This is a story that we will be keeping an eye on.

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