Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Friends of Soccer – A Grassroots Citizens Movement

With all the recent attention given to the Whitecaps stadium, I've received quite a few e-mails lately asking pretty much the same question: “Who/What is Friends of Soccer?”.

The simple answer is anyone who supports the Whitecaps Stadium is a Friend of Soccer. We're not a club. We're not an organization with a board or a membership. We're not a front group being financed or manipulated by developers or anyone else with a hidden agenda. We're not sponsored by the Whitecaps. We're not even a soccer team.

All we are is an independent grassroots citizens movement. It started back in October, 2005 with the basic belief that citizens have the power to persuade governments to make the Whitecaps stadium a reality. At that time, the stadium was under attack by few dozen activists and local politicians who were committed to killing the proposal before it even got off the ground.

Imagine that! A handful of people were ready to reject out of hand a much-needed privately funded stadium that would have easily cost the taxpayers more than $60 million to build without private help. Would they have ever done such a thing to the Canucks or the BC Lions? Of course not!

With a simple call to action, the soccer community and average citizens rose up to the challenge. In 2006, they attended Open Houses on the Stadium and told city planners overwhelmingly that this is what people wanted. They voiced their support through letters and e-mails to council. Thousands signed a banner telling the City to “Build The Stadium Now!”. They wrote letters to newspapers and phoned open-line radio shows. Many stood before City Council and gave passionate, logical speeches for the stadium. And almost everyone told their friends, family and teammates to get involved. In short, they did all of the things we still need to do today.

And through it all we found that we were hardly alone in this fight. When John Kostiuk, a Gastown resident, started the community group Stadium Now!, he exposed the fact that a majority of local residents and businesses were not against the stadium, and that some of them at the time were even being intimidated by landlords and opponents to keep quiet. Beyond that, the list of community groups, businesses, and sports organizations who spoke out and got involved grew by the day. In the end, City Council heard our voices and unanimously voted not once, but twice, in favour of the stadium.

To this day, all of these people are Friends of Soccer. Their work is a model of citizen democracy at its finest.

The Whitecaps have been more than generous in offering this gift to the city. But it's been the voices of citizens that has helped carry it this far. While we haven't yet achieved the prize, it's gratifying to know that this website could shut down tomorrow, but the voices for the stadium would go on until we all win.

Yours in Sport,
Bill Currie
Friends of Soccer

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