Thunder Bay soccer programs face a shortage of space as national team success sparks interest in the sport

From kick-off on Sunday to the final whistle when Canada’s National Men’s Team beat Jamaica 4-0 to qualify for their first World Cup appearance since 1986, Cameron Pytyck said the atmosphere at BMO Field in Toronto was “electric”.

As he and his expat friends who grew up playing soccer in Thunder Bay, Ont., roamed the celebrations in the streets and bars of Toronto, their conversation turned to what the event and the race for Olympic gold medal last year’s women’s team might have. means for home football culture.

“It must be a big, big, big almost slap in the face for anyone who doesn’t think the people of Thunder Bay, where we come from, need facilities and need places to play. is Canada now,” Pytyck mentioned. “We need to be able to have places where kids can play and grow and be and do exactly what Canada has done here, and be a part of that.”

Tony Colistro, executive director of Thunder Bay Chill, said the club’s spring soccer programs are accepting names for waitlists once registrations are filled on the first day of registration. Including competitive youth, men’s and women’s teams as well as recreational leagues, he estimates that 2,000 youth are enrolled in soccer programs. That’s almost as many as the 2,300 who play in local minor hockey associations.

“They know football”

Colistro said soccer programs can’t accommodate all the kids who want to play today, and that will only get tighter in the future.

“We always knew football was a participatory sport because of its affordability,” he said. “In terms of who can play, we’re talking about this influx of immigrants who come from all over the world. They don’t come with hockey skates because that’s not what they know. They know soccer.

After a year that saw Lakehead Express double its enrollment, the program rebranded itself as Lakehead Superior Rush this month. Coach Olivia Czipf says joining Club Rush will transform their part of the football movement as there are now opportunities to train and play with Rush affiliated clubs across North America and Europe.

Canadian Christine Sinclair, left, featured at the Tokyo Olympics, is a sports legend. Young women in Thunder Bay, Ontario are looking to find more opportunities in the city. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

“With the Canadian women’s team getting better every year and championing equality for women in sport, I find that our younger age groups, kids are more inspired to come and play soccer and aspire to play soccer. this higher level,” Czipf said.

“As children are increasingly inspired by women’s and men’s football teams, we are now giving them the opportunity to make those dreams come true.”

Both clubs say growth potential has been limited by available playing space, since the collapse of the sports dome on the grounds of the Canadian exhibition Lakehead in 2016.

The City is seeking funding for a new facility

A year ago, Thunder Bay City Council voted against the construction of a $37 million multi-purpose indoor turf facility and the soccer community has been waiting ever since.

The City of Thunder Bay is still awaiting an application it filed with Infrastructure Canada last July that, if successful, would contribute more than $22 million to the proposed multi-sport facility.

Kelly Robertson, the city’s general manager of community services, said the city expects to hear back by November.

The city is starting a new round of community consultations next week to determine if needs have changed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Stakeholders will be asked to comment if the federal government rejects the city’s request. In the event the government approves the city’s request, Robertson wants to test the appetite of a nonprofit or private company to operate the facility.

Canada’s Cyle Larin, left, celebrates after scoring against Jamaica in a World Cup qualifying match at BMO Field in Toronto on Sunday March 27, 2022. (Evan Mistsui/CBC)

Meanwhile, indoor soccer players play on a mat on one of the Thunder Bay Tournament Centre’s two hockey rinks. Peter Mork, 15, whose Thunder Bay Chill Under-16 team won the Ontario Indoor Cup in February, said the facility was not ideal with the ground being hard for the players’ joints and the ball going out frequently. play in a facility that is not designed for soccer.

While he can see adults have yet to find a solution to the lack of space as interest in the game grows, he said the success of Canada’s national teams is so infectious it makes see to the young players of the city that they can play on this level.

“It will eventually get better and eventually there will be a place to play,” he said. “It will only be a matter of time, so keep playing.”