The Greatest Game Canadians Don’t Play Enough Of

Girls futsal

Another thrilling season of the coolest adaptation of the beautiful game is in full swing now, and every week it seems the excitement is growing for the sport of futsal at the grassroots level here in Canada.

Referee and coaching certifications are finally in the midst of being created, top leagues are enticing more professional players and the provincial and national championships have expanded.
    If you think futsal is that game where you drop a tiny ball onto a table and spin rods around, think again because you’re thinking of foosball. Futsal is a dazzling display of 5-a-side soccer (including the keeper) that has significantly impacted some of the world’s greatest players over the last 60 years. Legendary icons such as Pele and Zico to the megastars of today, like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and probably the biggest advocate of the sport, Ronaldinho, all credit futsal in helping them get to where they are today.

The game itself is usually played on a hard and smooth surface, which is usually made of hardwood or another similar material, and is roughly the size of a basketball court. At the professional level, a unique blue vulcanized rubber pitch is commonly used and has become a key symbol of the game. There are boundary lines which force players into thinking and reacting quicker, contrary to other variations of indoor soccer that use boards. There are no slide tackles allowed and though contact does exist, it is minimized in comparison to the outdoor game. At regulation size, goals are 2m high and 3m wide. The pace is extremely fast and it is quite common to see an explosion of spectacular goals during the 20 minute halves. The emphasis is placed on dynamic teamwork through crisp short passes and explosive individual skill on the ball. The futsal ball differs from a regular soccer ball, being one size smaller yet also heavier, the purpose of which is to make it easier to control and minimize bouncing, which helps to keep it on the surface.

    Since FIFA mandated to its members a few years ago that futsal be the only officially recognized version of indoor soccer that they would support, many nations have jumped aboard with both feet in and have started pushing the 5v5 game into the forefront of player development and fan entertainment.

One recent example that is being viewed with massive long-term potential is in England, where their FA has declared that it intends to build and grow a top level futsal league. The plan is to try and incorporate big name clubs with ties to the Premiership, such as Arsenal and Liverpool, in order to promote interest and maximize exposure to an already soccer-crazed fan base. There are also many calls by decision-makers from the technical development side of things to change the way that English children and youth are taught, by implementing futsal as the leading tool of player training and education at ages as early as six. Over in the land of the rising sun, where space is extremely scarce and valuable, countless futsal pitches crown residential and corporate rooftops. This past September the inaugural season of the F-League kicked off. With 8 teams each playing 21 matches, the aim of the league is to increase not only the sport’s vast popularity, but also to further progress the overall soccer renaissance that has grown exponentially since Japan co-hosted the 2002 World Cup. Even more importantly, it is supported by the Japanese Football Federation, which will undoubtedly assist in sustaining the league’s long term viability and hopefully assist in producing the nation’s next generation of outdoor players. Both countries are just two clear-cut examples of how the sport is gaining massive popularity across the world and that momentum will increase substantially with the 2008 FIFA Futsal World Cup looming around the corner.

    While nations such as England and Japan both enter promising new eras in futsal, one must ask what is Canada doing to evolve the sport? The answer at the national level, unfortunately right now, is absolutely nothing.

    Since failing to qualify for the 2004 World Championships, Canada has not played a single game, and even worse, has not held one scouting session to identify talent, let alone a training camp. Soccer MAG has learned from CONCACAF that the Canadian Soccer Association has revoked their application for inclusion into the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Guatemala later this year that will send 3 nations to the World Cup. The team, if it can still be called that, has been based out of Edmonton since its inception in 2003, where national futsal and beach soccer (another 5v5 game) Head Coach Ross Ongaro has been forced to rely on local Albertan players, the likes of which also made up the beach soccer team that eliminated European Champions Spain at the 2006 Beach Soccer WC. The lack of funds generated by the CSA is to blame for the program cuts, the second straight year in which both futsal and beach soccer were omitted from its annual budget.

    As dead as the scenario currently is for the game at the top rung of the ladder, it certainly isn’t all doom and gloom for Canadian futsal. Leagues for both genders and every age group are found in almost every province; even in the Yukon there is a small league. But it is Ontario, BC and Quebec that have continued to pave the way for the progression of the sport as numerous tournaments and leagues have emerged to allow players to ply their trade on a competitive level. BC just wrapped up their 3rd provincial championships in Nanaimo and this year it has grown from the U14 level to include the U16’s. In Ontario, open divisions for both men’s and women’s exist, in addition to the U14 and U16 levels. The Ontario Futsal Cup will take place at the HoopDome in Toronto from February 23-24th. Last year, BC successfully hosted teams from Ontario and Alberta in the 1st ever installment of the national futsal championships in Vancouver. The 2008 edition will be held in Hamilton, ONT in the first week of April and hopes to draw provincial champions from at least 4 provinces. Another organization taking notice is OFSAA, the largest federation of athletics for schools in the Ontario. A sanctioned futsal tournament was held last year with major success and another one will take place this year to attract more schools to the sport with the hopes of it becoming an official sport with the organization after a trial period has finished.

    There are also 8 futsal leagues sanctioned by the OSA for this season across various district associations that allow local players to develop their skills over the course of a season: Ottawa/Carleton, Tri-Town Soccer Association in Soccer North, the Indoor Futsal Soccer League and Hanover Leagues in South-West Regional, Owen Sound, YR Shooters Indoor Futsal League in York Region, and Platense JRS and Toronto 2000 leagues in Toronto. These leagues have grown as players look to stray away from the more traditional Canadian indoor versions, such as 7v7 and arena, and they continue to grow the game provincially every year.

    If you happen to ever pass through Vaughan, ONT on a weekend, drop by Joan of Arc High School to catch a CPFL (Canadian Professional Futsal League) game, also at no cost to spectators. It is widely considered the elite playground for many current and former semi-pro and professional players from the USL, CSL and PDL that battle in a highly competitive 10-team league.

    Ironically, where the game really thrives though is where it butts heads with the ‘FIFA style’ of futsal.

Most futsal leagues in Ontario and Quebec operate under the AMF (Associacion Mundial de Futsal) scope, which is a rival futsal organization that follows the traditional rules of the game which are different than the FIFA Futsal Laws of the Game. There are over 2500 registered players that play in the Ontario Futsal Association in many cities from London to Sudbury, in every age division up to men’s and women’s. Quebec also has strong leagues in Sherbrooke, Granby, and Montreal, where the sport is very popular. Many of these AMF carded players are of Latin origin, as futsal and the initial AMF rules originated from South America in the 1930’s.

Clearly, futsal is becoming a much more popular option for parents, clubs and coaches during the fall/winter season to help better prepare for their summer outdoor leagues, and should merit some serious consideration when selecting where to play. It is already a training staple in many nations around the world and it is only a matter of time before every provincial organization follows suit. Hopefully by then we can get the national program back on track to give our bright young stars the chance to shine on a world stage that is getting bigger every year.

SIDENOTE: The CBC has acquired the rights to all FIFA events until 2014 and that includes the 2008 and 2012 Futsal World Cups.

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