Can Futsal Save Soccer in Canada

Everyone knows the Canadian soccer system is broke. It’s no longer a question of how or why rather a question of what can we do to fix it? Truth is, there are hundreds of things that need to change and decades of commitment to that change before Canada can ever hope of being considered a soccer playing/loving nation as the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) would like. We need look no further than to our good neighbours to the south – the USA. Once in the same boat as Canada, they are now at least two decades ahead of us and although not yet considered a world soccer force they are certainly now the team to beat in CONCACAF and enjoy regular FIFA World Cup qualification. Their award of the 1994 FIFA World Cup sparked a revolution in US soccer, spurring the establishment of a domestic professional league with a number of D2 and D3 league options, forced a plan to deal with the not for profit vs for profit quandary, and inspired regular lucrative promotional events featuring Europe’s and South America’s biggest brands. All this has helped build an appetite and has sold the game to Americans allowing it to grow in the USA. So is their growth model the example for Canada to follow? No, it seems to be working for them and that’s great but it couldn’t possibly work here. The American soccer boom has its roots in massive commercial and financial investment. With 1/10th the population and significant geographic barriers, Canada simply doesn’t have the financial where with all to adopt an American style growth model. If Canada is to succeed at soccer, as it has in other sports, our growth and development models must be culturally driven and technically sound. When a sporting culture is not present, there must be a catalyst for change, a ground zero building block to move things forward. What if futsal was that catalyst? What if futsal was the building block to create both the cultural and technical changes needed to save soccer in Canada?

Hockey Culture
If you don’t like hockey you’re not Canadian! Just kidding, or am I? That answer literally depends on who you ask. The cultural connection to hockey in Canada is as strong as any nationalities connection with soccer. Canada’s dominance in hockey is no more a coincidence than Germany, Brazil and Spain’s dominance in soccer. Our collective cultural passion for hockey is aided by our international success but is rooted in the accessibility of the game at the most basic grassroots level. The vast majority of Canadians love of hockey does not stem from time playing in structured youth leagues at exorbitant costs of $5,000 – $20,000 per season. The average Canadian relates to hockey from the time they spent playing on Canada’s infinite supply of frozen water with their buddies at a cost even the most financially challenged can afford. And when the lakes, ponds and rivers are melted, we are constantly reminded of our hockey loving culture every time we pass by the endless supply of outdoor rinks and arenas in EVERY urban and rural community across Canada. I’ve been told youth hockey is not without its issues but at least the most basic grassroots need – accessibility – is not one of them.

Why Futsal?
Simple. It’s proven to develop some of the worlds most technically proficient players, the skills learned are completely transferable to the full field game and implementing a nationwide infrastructure program is very much feasible.

Essentially a small sided version of soccer, futsal in its many forms has helped develop many of the worlds greatest players and is an essential part of developmental programs in most of the world’s top footballing (soccer) nations. Played on a small surface, 5v5 (4 plus a goalkeeper), futsal is a very fast paced game. It forces players to think and play the game much quicker than full field soccer; this conditions the mind to play under the most demanding pressures the full field game has to offer. In addition to mental sharpness and technical superiority, futsal is proven to develop creativity, player confidence on the ball and perhaps most importantly a sound transitional game; an area the CSA’s Technical Director, Tony Fonseca, identifies as a key component to playing successful soccer. Unlike the full field and modern versions of indoor soccer, players have nowhere to hide in futsal. They must be involved in the play and are often forced to make decisions and attempt skills repetitiously that they might not be forced to perform in variants of indoor/outdoor soccer. Many recognize some of our greatest deficiencies competing internationally include poor speed of play and effective decision-making skills, futsal forces the development of these key aspects. It’s ironic the single best tool to help reverse our shortcomings is not well promoted in Canada.

Building A National Futsal Infrastructure Framework
Like the endless stream of outdoor hockey rinks and arenas across Canada, we could have futsal courts in every neighbourhood and at a fraction of the cost to build and maintain. This can be achieved through a combination of building some new and converting the countless dilapidated basketball and/or tennis courts in every neighbourhood into refreshed multi-use community facilities. We’ve all passed the empty, local sport specific tennis and basketball courts. Why must they be sport specific? Why can these facilities not be multi-use to accommodate basketball, futsal, tennis, volleyball and many more? They can and many such facilities already exist, just not in Winnipeg and I would venture too few elsewhere in Canada.

Modular futsal/multi-use court installation. Source:
Modular futsal/multi-use court installation.

Some of the newer and/or better maintained, existing facilities could be converted for a mere few thousand dollars with simple surface marking upgrades and the installation of anchored futsal goals and basketball net upgrades. If one wanted to upgrade from the typical asphalt surface to a futsal certified, multi-use outdoor surface these can be purchased from a variety of vendors ranging from $10-$20/m^2. If you work out the cost vs area permutations for an official FIFA size futsal court, you can purchase an outdoor grade court for as little as $6,000 – $17,000. That price can be lowered significantly, perhaps even halved if the court is purchased for indoor installation.

Governments and municipalities all over North America seek “healthy living” initiatives. They also tend to own several parcels of land not viable for significant economic development but could prove perfect for the creation of new outdoor multi-use community facilities. With a quick internet search you can find some basic pricing of what a new tennis court installation costs. For all intents and purposes, this would be comparable to the size and expense of a multi-use court installation. The basic rate of a new court ranges from $50,000 – $100,000. Broken down as follows:

  • Clearing/grading the land: $15,000 – $25,000
  • Hard/Clay/Multi-sport surface installation: $25,000 – $75,000
  • Fencing & Lighting: $10,000 – $15,000
Multi-use outdoor court. Source:
Multi-use outdoor court. Source:

Sounds expensive right? Wrong! This is a drop in the bucket compared to what most municipalities budget for recreation. To put things into perspective, let’s compare the expenses of refurbishing and building new futsal/multi-use courts to the price of building a community centre hockey arena. The new Seven Oaks Arena is a $20 Million dollar, double rink arena set to begin operation in Winnipeg’s North End this month. You read that correctly, $20 million dollars for one community centre arena in one neighbourhood of one Canadian city! Let’s see how far that would go towards building a national futsal infrastructure shall we?

New/well maintained existing community courts:

  • Assumptions: upgraded marking and new futsal goals/basketball nets required. No repair/upgrades to current surface.
  • Assumed upgrade cost: $5,000
  • Number of refurbished courts for $20M: 4,000

Dilapidated existing community courts:

    • Assumptions: upgraded markings and new futsal goals/basketball nets required. Current surface requires significant repair or replacement.
    • Assumed upgrade cost: $10,000 – $25,000
    • Number of refurbished courts for $20M: 800 – 2,000

Brand new court construction:

      • Assumptions: built on municipal owned land, no acquisition costs.
      • Assumed build cost: $50,000 – $100,000
      • Number of new multi-use courts for $20M: 200 – 400

Manitoba has a population (2014) of 1.2 million people, 65-70% of whom live in Winnipeg. To serve that population we have approximately 244 outdoor rinks and arenas across the province. Of those, 94 are arenas with 28 of those arenas in Winnipeg. Astonishingly, the budget to build just one arena, the new Seven Oaks Arena, could more than cover the total costs of building a futsal infrastructure capable of supporting the entire population of Manitoba! Granted not all arenas are as lavish as the new Seven Oaks Arena but todays replacement cost of a modern single rink, hockey arena ranges between $3 – 10 Million dollars! The International Ice Hockey Federation provides a guide for building basic hockey rink arenas and value their cost  at 2.5 million euros or 3.4 million dollars Canadian. Ignoring the fact there are a number of multi-rink arenas in Manitoba already thus greatly increasing their value, our 94 arenas in this province have a combined value of $282,000,000 – $1 Billion! This could build 2,800 – 10,000 brand new multi-use courts or refurbish as many as 56,400 – 200,000 existing courts depending on current condition. Astonishingly, the value of Manitoba’s arenas alone could potentially finance an entire nationwide futsal infrastructure program!

Nickel and dime the futsal refurbishment and new construction cost estimates if you wish, inflate them by a ridiculous 100% even. The fact indisputably remains that the cost to implement a national futsal infrastructure program pales in comparison to what we already spend on hockey, but my oh my look how that investment has paid off.

Leading the Charge for Change
Some argue that we don’t produce enough talented players and the corrective action is to introduce clear player pathways and universal training methods. Few disagree these are necessary but it’s kind of like putting the horse before the cart. These measures don’t exactly grow and promote the game rather they improve the processes in place for current and future participants. No matter how clear the developmental path or how good the developmental methods, the size and quality of a player pool is culturally dependent.

As the official governing bodies of soccer across Canada, the CSA and its Provincial Member Associations are responsible for the promotion and growth of soccer in Canada. In order to achieve this, they need to establish a cultural connection to the game and make it freely accessible. They should be leading a charge to partner with federal, provincial and municipal governments as well as reaching out to other sporting agencies with similar objectives like Basketball Canada and/or Tennis Canada to pool resources and fund a national futsal/multi-use court infrastructure.

Cultural identification lends itself to sporting success, there is much proof of this in the world of sport. Reducing access constraints at the grassroots level is crucial to building a cultural identification with a sport. A national futsal infrastructure is economically feasible and capable of building the cultural and technical foundations of the developmental model necessary to grow the game of soccer in Canada. Tasked with the promotion and growth of soccer, our national and provincial governing bodies need to be the primary advocate for developing such an infrastructure framework while partnering with government and sporting bodies with similar vested interests to secure the funding necessary. Financial investment, player pathways and development models are all great and necessary initiatives in building a national sporting program but passion and cultural identification are required for building a successful program.


Banner image source: Nick’s World Cup Brazil 2014