Soccer vs. hockey: Who plays what in Canada

A staggering number of Canadian kids play soccer

Jonathan Hayward/CP

Jonathan Hayward/CP

Hockey is as essential to the Canadian identity as beer, maple syrup, politeness and Tim Hortons. Yet, new numbers suggest the beautiful game is challenging that status. Perhaps our bid for the 2026 World Cup isn’t so crazy after all:

Cups: The World vs. Stanley?

Canadians bought more than 29,000 tickets to this year’s World Cup matches, according to FIFA. We outranked all other nations that didn’t qualify, and were behind only 10 nations that did.

Although we’ve yet to see numbers, it’s likely more Canadians watched Germany play Argentina than watched the Stanley Cup final. Consider this: An estimated 3.1 million Canadians tuned in July 9 to CBC’s English-language broadcast of the Argentina-Netherlands semifinal—just 200,000 short of the 3.3 million who watched the final game between the Rangers and Kings.

Canada ranks ninth in the world when it comes to registered athletes in soccer. According to a 2006 FIFA census, one in 39 Canadians is enrolled in the sport at some level. By comparison, one in 40 Italians plays. In the United States, it’s one in 72. Germany ranked the highest with one soccer athlete for every 14 people.

Championed by young and new Canadians

Since at least 1998, soccer has ranked as the No. 1 sport for children between five and 14. At that time, 32 per cent of boys and girls participating in sports were playing soccer. In 2010, the number had jumped to 42 per cent.


The Institute of Canadian Citizenship just released a national study exploring how new citizens participate in Canada’s sporting culture. The most popular team sport for new citizens is soccer—18 per cent report playing the game in their new country. The pastime follows running, swimming and biking. By comparison, only six per cent of new citizens have enrolled their children in hockey or baseball.

The high cost of sports:

One of many likely reasons the sport is so popular is that all you really need to play is a ball. A CIBC report released this month suggests the financial burden associated with sports can be a significant barrier to participation. Nine in 10 Canadians think sports are too expensive, and 82 per cent know a child who cannot participate due for that reason.

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Soccer vs. hockey: Who plays what in Canada

  1. Perhaps a better comparison for the Stanley Cup final would be the Premier League Championship.
    The World Cup should be compared with the Olympic Gold Medal Hockey game:

    In any case, it is a false competition. Hockey & soccer are great cross-training for each other in terms of fitness, skills and even strategy. If soccer in Canada takes off it is the CFL which would suffer.

  2. There are 4 primary reasons soccer is gaining ground in Canada and hockey is loosing, despite hockey being “our sport”. I’ll try and be brief but I’m not good at it.

    1. Cost. Arenas are expensive. The electricity to run the ice machine is expensive. Heating the stands in a frozen arena is expensive. Loosing 10-15% of the potential playing time to ice resurfacing is expensive. Having the arena sit unused for 7 months of the year because it’s too expensive to keep ice on it is expensive. The gear is expensive. Having to practice on ice in an arena is expensive. It’s expensive.

    2. Boundaries. Governing bodies in hockey feel they need boundaries, I am not sure why I suppose to lock players into clubs so that each club has enough players to pay for the expensive ice and also to try and get compatible teams at the higher tiers. However this establishes monopolies which invariably get abused by certain coaches and club managers. Without the right to move to another club, your only recourse if you have a bad coach or bad politics is to quit and play soccer. Soccer does not generally use boundaries and although some weird stuff happens because of it especially at the top tiers they survive. In soccer if you feel the club has mismanaged your player you just move to the next closest club. In hockey if you feel the club mismanaged your player you send them and email and they do not respond, so you put your kid in soccer.

    3. Violence. Hockey is the only team sport that condones fighting and after the play hitting. American football (CFL, NFL) represents contact sports that are even more extreme than hockey and these are sports that hockey leadership should look to for determining how sportsmanship is handled in a full contact sport. (Soccer is a contact sport for those of you who have not played it, they just don’t allow charging or what would be called checking in hockey.) An outbreak of UFL style boxing in a CFL or NFL game would result in multiple permanent suspensions. In hockey it’s considered good for ticket sales. A lot of parents do not want to see their kids subject to such behavior and in fact abhor it. Also in football hitting after the play results in a penalty. In hockey it’s called “finishing your check”, even if it couldn’t possibly alter the play. I think this is allowed because young hockey players cannot always stop when they should and the overall “Slap Shot” nature of the game.

    4. Novelty. Only first world countries can afford arenas and everything else mentioned in point #1, and you certainly aren’t going to see hot countries like Australia building enough hockey rinks to become a force in hockey. It just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to run most of the rinks in Canada during the summer. Hockey has reached maximum market penetration now and it will not go up, especially as most immigrants and even the majority of the natural population know soccer (or football as they call it abroad) not hockey.

    In terms of comparing the Stanley Cup to the World Cup, well you can’t even do it. The viewership for the Stanley Cup finals runs in the millions, where you need a billion to measure World Cup viewership. They are not even in the same dimension.

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