The Power of Dreaming Big


 Yesterday, Canada officially began the countdown to the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It started down a pathway of global storytelling unlike any other the sport – at least men’s soccer — has ever undertaken in this country.

Yes, it’s true that Canada’s men’s national team has been to the FIFA World Cup before. Once. In 1986. Thirty-six years ago in Mexico. It was a huge moment for soccer in Canada and that team – coached by the late Tony Waiters, Honoured Member of the BC Sports Hall of Fame from the Class of 2019 – has enjoyed a special place in the history of Canadian soccer for more than two generations.

That men’s team is famous – and always will be – because it was the first to qualify. It was the Charles Lindbergh of Canadian men’s soccer. Many of its members went on to enjoy outstanding careers in professional soccer and some carved out leadership roles in coaching, management, soccer operations and business, helping to fuel the promotion, growth and development of the game. Names like Bruce Wilson, Honoured Member from the BC Sports Hall of Fame Class of 1990 (and part of the CONCACAF Team of the Century in 1998). Wilson, who retired after that first and only – until now – trip to the World Cup in Mexico in 1986, has created one of Canada’s best varsity soccer programs at the University of Victoria. The iconic Bobby Lenarduzzi, the long-time Vancouver Whitecaps and 86ers player and coach and national team manager, part of the Class of 1992. Who can forget Carl Valentine from the Class of 2016, another legendary Whitecap and 86er who to this day is one of the sport’s great Canadian ambassadors? There is the epitome of class, Dale Mitchell, who is still doing his part to help develop the next generation of young British Columbian and Canadian players with Coquitlam Metro Ford. Mitchell is now poised to join the Class of 2021 of the BC Sports Hall of Fame, a terrific group of Honoured Members that will be officially inducted Thursday, June 9th, at our Induction Gala at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

The BC content of the 1986 Canadian men’s national team extended beyond those individually-recognized by the BC Sports Hall of Fame, and also included Gerry Gray (who is part of the 1979 Vancouver Whitecaps team inducted into the BC Sports Hall), Whitecaps general manager Les Wilson and Whitecaps athletic therapist Barry Crocker, along with 1989 Vancouver 86er team member inductees John Catliff and Sven Haberman.

Yet that team was from another era and another place in time. The team that was the last ball selected yesterday in the draw for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar, is of the Internet era. Its every step has been recorded digitally. This Canadian team is a poster child for the one-two punch of network television and video streaming. It is a product of the social media universe, giving it a broader footprint than any Canadian men’s team in history.

Yesterday reflected all of that on multiple media platforms and on a variety of devices. After 18 qualifying matches – including the last 14 in the CONCACAF Octagon – it was time for head coach John Herdman and the Canadian team to look forward to November 23rd, when they play Belgium, a golden generation European team which held the FIFA #1 world ranking until yesterday. In the same week, Canada will also play Morocco and 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia in Group F.

Today is no April Fools Day. This is all real. And it’s real because coach Herdman made his more than two dozen core players believe that it could become real. Herdman has unleashed the power of dreaming big. He said to me six months after his appointment to the CMNT that he was ready for the challenge…and optimistic. He asked: “Why wait until automatic qualification in 2026 when we could make it happen in 2022?” He said to me on that June Saturday in 2018 — almost four years ago — that he was turning his head towards Qatar because he truly believed it was possible. It’s now more than possible. It’s happening.

So cue the storytelling. Roll the credits of Herdman and everyone else who has helped Canada reach this pinnacle of men’s soccer. And believe in the Power of Dreaming Big.

It’s the kind of power that the BC Sports Hall of Fame strives to channel in its recognition of every athlete, every coach, every builder, every pioneer, every team and every media member that have realized their wildest dreams. The realization of dreams is central to the vision of the BC Sports Hall. And that’s why what the Canadian men have accomplished during these eight months of qualifying is only the end of the beginning. It is a new chapter for Canadian men’s soccer.

We stand ready to embrace the thrills and chills that the FIFA World Cup will bring this fall. We stand ready to weave those stories – including the possibility of international friendlies at BC Place in June or September – into the awe-inspiring canvas that has already been drawn by the Canadian Women’s National Team, Tokyo 2020 gold medalists and Olympic champions. We consider ourselves so fortunate to be witnessing a time where both the men’s and women’s national teams are at the top of their respective games — breaking new ground for the sport on so many levels. We are honoured to be tasked with the BC-based storytelling – and the dreaming – that will forever be part of our sport history, heritage and culture.

Whether it’s the newfound success of the Canadian men’s team or the long-standing leadership of the Christine Sinclair generation and the women’s national team, the learning is the same: Why think small when you can dream big?

Tom Mayenknecht, Chair
BC Sports Hall of Fame

Tom Mayenknecht is the Chair of the BC Sports Hall of Fame. A principal at Emblematica Brand Builders in Vancouver and a nationally-recognized sport business commentator and founder and host of The Sport Market sport business radio show, he is a strong advocate for KidSport, Right To Play and other children’s charities. He is also a member of the Ringette Canada Hall of Fame as a builder and Chair of the Paul Carson Sports Broadcast & Media Awards.