Why the Canadian women’s soccer team is more popular than the men’s team

Andrew Bucholtz

There's no question that Canadians have embraced the bronze-medal winning women's soccer team, with a staggering 10.7 million viewers tuning in at some point during their Olympic semifinal clash against the Americans. This isn't a new thing, either; while some fans have undoubtedly come to women's soccer thanks to the incredible story of this team's tournament, this team's been passionately supported by a wide segment of the Canadian public for a long time, and that's been clear in every tournament from the 2002 U-19 women's world championship to the 2008 Olympics to this year's Olympic qualifying campaign. Meanwhile, the men's team has often struggled to draw fans to their friendlies and World Cup qualifiers, and that has some arguing about which team deserves support more.

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There are plenty of obvious reasons for the popular appeal of the women's team. They feature some world-class talents like Christine Sinclair, something that would be hard to claim on the men's side, and they've generally done well over the last decade. They're unquestionably one of the world's top 10 women's teams, and their bronze medal at these Olympics suggests they may be even better than that. In this tournament in particular, the amount of attention paid to them got a significant boost thanks to the stakes of the clash with the U.S. and the controversy that ensued. They play an entertaining, offensively-focused brand of soccer that many enjoy watching. There are also huge numbers of women playing soccer in Canada, and many of them undoubtedly follow this team fervently. Beyond all that, this team's performance at these Games is a great story and one that could set women's soccer up for a long-term boost.

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None of that specifically has anything to do with the men's team and its problems, but men versus women is an argument that frequently arises in Canadian soccer circles, and both sides' cases have their merits. Stalwart supporters of the women's team point out that they're much more renowned on an international scale; for example, the Canadian men are ranked 79th in the world by FIFA and eighth in their own confederation, while the Canadian women were ranked seventh worldwide heading into the Olympics and will likely rise even further following their bronze-medal win. That's not easy to dispute.

Men's team-first fans counter by pointing out that the numbers of countries who seriously invest in women's soccer is very limited (as it is in most women's sports), and they also have a point. While the Canadian men have hit plenty of rocky patches over the last several decades and haven't qualified for the World Cup since 1986, just getting to a major international tournament is a much steeper climb for them. It's those major tournaments that draw in viewers, though (see the massive ratings TSN got for Euro 2012), and that undoubtedly plays a role in the women's increased popularity. It's easier to get a casual fan to tune into a women's Olympics or World Cup match than a men's qualifier against Barbados, and the tough task the men face in making those major tournaments hasn't helped them much.

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The real question is if the two sides need to be opposed all the time, though. It's very doable to follow and support both the Canadian men's team and the Canadian women's team, and in fact, there have been some suggestions that the women's success may help the men. Men's head coach Stephen Hart seems to think the women's triumph will help boost soccer's Canadian popularity in general, and that seems quite possible. Turf wars are inevitably going to happen, but fans might do well to celebrate both programs instead of quibbling over their respective merits. The women's team may face a shallow field overall, but they still play extremely-tough opposition, while the men may not make it to many big tournaments, but they're rarely to never favoured to get there. Both teams represent Canada internationally, and fans might be better served to support both and focusing on growing soccer overall instead of arguing over which team's more worthy of support.

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