Tuesday, May 05, 2009

May 12: A Vote For Soccer in B.C.

Elections are won and lost on a variety of issues, whether it's the economy, healthcare, education, the environment and a host of others. No one single issue should ever be the sole deciding factor when electing a government. But it's worth noting that the future of soccer has played a unique role in this provincial election campaign, and both the Liberals and NDP are trying to one-up each other to earn your vote. The entire soccer community has the ear of every candidate in the province right now, and if you're involved in soccer in any way as a player, referee, parent, fan or coach, you have an opportunity on May 12 to help steer the direction of our sport in B.C. I encourage you to consider this, and to share this message with your friends, teammates and anyone you know in B.C. who loves soccer.

Since 2005, Friends of Soccer has acted as a grassroots movement for the soccer community to stay informed on the issues and to communicate to elected officials our support for soccer projects that are important to the development of the game. Through your letters, phone calls and e-mails to elected officials, the soccer community has kept the dream of a downtown community stadium for the Whitecaps alive, and ensured that Major League Soccer will arrive and thrive in B.C. come 2011. While all of us in soccer have different political ideas and opinions, when it comes to the issues that impact soccer in our province, we have always had a strong unified voice.

Although we have been asked many times to do so, Friends of Soccer has never endorsed any political party in any election. The soccer community is too broad and diverse for an endorsement to be properly reflective and inclusive. Instead, we have simply laid out the facts as to where the parties and candidates stand in regard to soccer issues, and how well their actions have matched their words.

So, for this election, we will begin with the NDP.

In the week preceding the election campaign, the BC NDP ran a series of attack ads on several soccer-related websites condemning the renovation of BC Place, and falsely suggesting that the cost of the renovation is coming at the expense of healthcare and the homeless. The ads sparked outrage throughout the soccer community, as the BC Place renovation is vital to the existence of the Vancouver Whitecaps in our community. Rescinding the renovations would have also directly threatened many soccer projects throughout the province. (You can read the Friends of Soccer reaction here, as well as our response to the NDP's retraction).

On April 11, the NDP confirmed their full commitment to the BC Place renovations, and pulled the offensive ads. For this, they deserve applause as it showed they were willing to listen to criticism from the soccer community, and altered their position when they realized the consequences of this policy. That's how democracy should work. Many politicians at all levels of government would do well to learn a thing or two from this.

The NDP also announced $100 million for the construction of soccer fields throughout the province. Once again, very laudable and, If elected, they need to follow through on this. Constructing these soccer fields in places where they are needed, and building facilities for premier player development would be good for the sport in the province. If the NDP form government, it will be up to all of us to hold them accountable for this major promise.

However, the voters of B.C. have no firm details on this policy. We do not know what soccer projects they plan to complete, or in what cities or towns. We also don't know if they support or oppose the much needed National Soccer Development Centre proposed for Delta.

The NDP would do well to clarify their policies, so voters can make an informed choice. Doing this could go a long way to reconcile some of the hard feelings currently held within the soccer community towards the NDP for the previous attack ads, as well as the Federal NDP's irresponsible opposition to the Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium. In fact, the BC NDP would also do well to support the Whitecaps in building their new stadium on the waterfront.

As the governing party, the BC Liberals can be measured by not only the promises they make, but by their actions over the past four years. While they could have done better on many issues, from a pure soccer policy perspective, the current government has had a positive impact on the sport in B.C..

In the last four years, their government created an excellent active communities program to encourage fitness, sport and healthy living throughout the province. It is a participatory program that ties in not only to sport, but healthcare as well. They have a well-defined sport policy, and have constructed dozens of new sport facilities throughout the province.

On May 2, they made a major promise to construct a national soccer centre in Delta that will have nothing short of a profound impact on how Canada develops soccer players in the future. If re-elected, they can expect the soccer community to hold their feet to the fire on this commitment.

But the single biggest impact they've had was ensuring that the planned renovations at BC Place would be soccer-friendly. Without this government's last-minute intervention on this issue, the Whitecaps bid for Major League Soccer would have been dead in a sea of municipal red tape. The future of mens professional and womens soccer in Vancouver would have been thrown into doubt, and high level soccer in B.C. would have reverted back to the state it was in almost 25 years ago.

To this date, the BC Liberals are the only party at any level of government that has taken critical action to preserve professional soccer in B.C.

That being said, the Liberals could have done better and more. The BC Place renovations should have been planned and completed prior to the 2010 Olympics. This should never have been an election issue. Committing to the national soccer centre in Delta prior to the election campaign would have gone a long way to avoid some of the local cynicism that comes with an election time promise. The Liberals would do well to match the NDP's promise to build new soccer fields throughout the province. And the Liberals could do much more to support the waterfront stadium project.

Once again, this election campaign is made up of many issues, and it would be foolish to base a vote on just one. For many of us, soccer plays a huge role in the quality of life for us and our families. It's only right that we should know how our vote can impact the direction soccer takes in B.C.

On May 12, please exercise your democratic right to vote.

Yours in sport,
Bill Currie
Friends of Soccer