In terms of sports popularity, the region of North America has been dominated for many years by Canadian and American football (collectively known as just “football”), a sport that is played by carrying an oblong-shaped ball from one area of the field to the goal. However, the sport of association football (better known in North America as soccer) has surprisingly become much more popular than Canadian/American football in Canada. How did this happen? And what sparked the rise in popularity of soccer in the country? Let us find out the answers to these questions as we take a look at the origins and the current popularity of association football in Canada.
Origins of Football in Canada
No one knows the exact date of when Canadians started learning how to play association football, but one of the earliest recorded soccer games in Canada was played in 1859 between a team comprised of Irish players and a team made up of members of the St. George’s Society in Toronto. The said game was then followed by matches that occurred in New Westminster in 1852 and in the capital city of British Columbia called Victoria in 1865.
Although the modern rules of association football were implemented in 1863, it was only in 1876 when the said set of rules was applied to a match in Toronto. A year after the implementation of modern rules in Canada, the Dominion Football Association was created to further increase the popularity of soccer in the country and to also create more teams for better competition.
From then on, there have been numerous football associations that were created in Canada, and some of them have survived for more than 100 years, including the Manitoba Football Association (1896) and the Ontario Football Association (1901). Sports betting has also become prominent for soccer, and according to Doug Hirdle from Betting.ca, soccer betting became more and more popular in Canada because of the increasing number of bettors in the country.
Canadian Soccer League System
Much like the league systems found in other countries, Canada also has a league system that allows them to govern the different leagues in the country under one association. The main governing body of the sport in Canada is the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), which was founded in 1912. However, the CSA
Soccer in Canada is divided into different categories, which are Men’s professional, Men’s amateur, Women’s amateur, and Youth. Besides those four categories, there are also two national cups in Canada called the Canadian Championship for professional players and the Challenge Trophy for amateur players. The winner of the Canadian Championship will go on to represent the country at the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL), which is comprised of the best teams in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
The CONCACAF Champions League serves as the said regions’ qualifying tournament for the FIFA Club World Cup, as the winner of the CCL would automatically qualify in the quarter-finals of the international competition. Unfortunately, the Canadian teams at the CONCACAF Champions League are yet to win a championship finish, but two teams ended up winning as runner-up in 2015 and 2018. According to worldfootball.net, Mexico holds the league record for the most titles, as their teams were able to win 37 titles as of 2020. Interestingly, Mexico has a title win streak of 15 championships, which started in 2006.
Popularity of the Sport in Canada
Canada was once largely focused on ice hockey and Canadian/American football during the 1980s, and the popularity of those two sports is still high even in today’s era. However, both of those sports were overtaken by soccer by the 1990s when there were more registered soccer players than ice hockey and Canadian football players. In 2008, it was reported that there were about 873,032 soccer players registered in Canada, while there were only 584,679 registered ice hockey players.
The popularity of soccer in Canada can be attributed to it being a much safer game to play than ice hockey and Canadian football, which are both deemed as a sport that is so dangerous that players would need to wear a lot of padding in their uniforms. In addition, soccer is also relatively easier to play, thus making it easy to learn for children who are finding the right sport for them at a young age. However, not many soccer players in Canada would end up in the professional leagues, mostly due to the lack of motivation to make it their profession since they only find it as a hobby. As such, amateur leagues in Canada are slightly more popular than professional leagues. Because of the emphasis on amateur football, the country was struggling to train better players that wanted to play or compete at a high level and face players from other countries.
Fortunately, soccer is still a growing sport in Canada, as national Canadian football teams have slowly risen up in the FIFA rankings over the years. More and more football programs are being set up in the country to develop better soccer players, and in the future, we may see Canada as a powerhouse in the FIFA World Cup.