Yup, thats right.

Football is the best sport in the world.

Let me translate that into North American, “Soccer is the best sport in the world”.

The simple fact of the matter is that soccer is an accessible, universal sport that only requires one piece of equipment, a ball, which can be fashioned out of just about anything.  And while I love the humanity and heartbreak of other sports like triathlon or cycling, and the pace and grit of other sports like hockey or American Football, I can’t bring myself to say that any of that can outweigh the simplicity and universality of soccer.

Side Note:  One of the common gripes about soccer by North Americans is that its “boring”.  But if you’ve ever played soccer, or been to a match, you’ll develop a greater appreciation for the skill and athleticism these athletes hold.  Its not an easy sport, and its amazing what the feet of the greats like Zidane, and Pele can do with a ball.  I’d urge anyone that has ever complained about the game being boring, to find a ball and play some pick up.

For millions of children growing up around the world the dream of one day playing for a professional club represents a far reaching ticket from the ordinary, it represents a path to fame and fortune.  In spite of the politics that exist in the upper echelons of any sport, soccer remains a meritocracy that rewards skill with no prerequisites such as family income.  To succeed in hockey, triathlon, American football, the entry ticket for a kid is thousands of dollars of equipment and fees that many families can’t afford.  But with soccer, scouts and development systems in countries that are serious about the sport, will make sure that talent is identified and cultivated from a young age if you’ve got the skill, not necessarily the money.  You can’t buy your way into success in the sport, but if you’re good enough, and only if you’re good enough, you’ll get somewhere.

What I find frustrating as a Canadian is the lack of funding that soccer, and of course other sports receive. As a nation we’ve become perfectly content to be really truly exceptional at hockey, but nothing else really.  That’s not to marginalize the achievements of our other athletes, but rather highlight that we’re okay with landing where we land with other sports, but God forbid we not win the hockey game.  This does a great disservice to our youth.

For just one second, imagine a “parallel universe Canada”.  Imagine that our women losing 4-0 to the US at the CONCACAF final was met with sport section front page inquiries as to “What happened?”.  In this parallel universe imagine that our achievements in speed skating are as celebrated (or even almost as celebrated) as our achievements in hockey.  Imagine that development programs were in place that allowed up and coming triathletes funding to travel to qualifier races so they didn’t have to pay out of their own pocket to try and make the national team.

Now imagine the trickle down effect this would have in youth athletics and fitness.  If we placed more funding and emphasis on sports other than hockey it would give more kids an opportunity to find sports and activities they enjoy.  Development programs recognizing talent in kids participating other sports would provide encouragement to participate and even excel with the hopes and dreams of one day playing for a professional club, or being able to stand on the podium while representing your country.  This would promote greater participation rates in youth activities.

Imagine the possibilities now!  Lower childhood obesity rates, reversing the trend in heart disease among younger and younger demographics, fewer kids sitting in front of the TV playing on the PS3 instead choosing to play some pick up soccer, people growing up more fit, more people riding their bikes to work, more attractive people walking down the street, lower GHG emissions, the hole in the ozone gets fixed, famines will end, the world is saved! And it goes on, and on, and on.

Soccer is the best example of how a sport that can bridge age, race, gender, and income.  It matters because for so many youths around the world it represents so much more than a game, it represents hope and opportunity.  Recognizing that soccer and other sports are more than just games we watch on TV is one of the most important things we can do towards bringing sport to our youths.  And in turn making Canada a very fit, proud, sport powerhouse.

Soccer matters.  Sport matters.

It all starts here.