Canada Soccer to use lessons from Qatar to refine support at future tournaments

DOHA, Qatar — With bumper TV audiences at home, the World Cup has focused attention on the Canadian men just as the Tokyo Olympics served as a platform for the women to shine.

Qatar has also allowed Canada Soccer to test out and refine programs that will resurface at the Women's World Cup next summer in Australia and New Zealand as well as the 2026 men's tournament, which Canada is co-hosting with the U.S. and Mexico.

"There's a whole lot of positives we're going to take out of this and integrate into what we do as an organization," Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane said in an interview.

The "friends and family" travel/accommodation program for the players drew positive reviews in Qatar and will be used when the Olympic champion Canadians go to the Women's World Cup. Cochrane says other federations have been picking their brain on the program.

Canada Soccer House has also drawn interest.

Located on the fifth floor of the Hilton Doha The Pearl, the outdoor poolside area was a place for Canadian fans as well as the players' family and friends to relax and watch games. At $249 for an adult and $99 for a child, it was not cheap, but that admission price came with food and more than a few drinks (friends and families did not pay).

Cochrane says Canada's performance on the field, with some impressive play despite three losses, has also garnered positive reviews from other confederations and FIFA itself.

"Some of the (FIFA) technical study group have come up to me and just talked glowingly about this young Canada team," Cochrane said on the eve of Thursday's 2-1 loss to Morocco. "I think that opening game against Belgium (a 1-0 loss) caught many by surprise. I don't think it caught us by surprise, generally speaking … but it was the first time on a global stage, against the world No. 2 in this tournament where the world stood up and paid attention to what this team is capable of."

Representatives from Toronto and Vancouver, Canada's host cities for the 2026 tournament, are visiting Qatar to get a firsthand look at the organization.

Canada Soccer also scored points by putting up billboards of all 26 players in their hometowns, a move especially appreciated by their families.

On the TV front, TSN reported that last Sunday's Canada-Croatia match — a 4-1 loss — was the second-most-watched sports broadcast of the year behind the February Super Bowl — and the third-most-watched World Cup match on record.

The network said the game attracted an average audience of 4.4 million viewers on TSN, CTV, and RDS, with more than one in four Canadians tuning in to watch some or all of the live broadcast.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2022.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press