Year Ahead

The Year Ahead: Sports in 2024

Canada’s men’s basketball team will make its first Olympic appearance since 2000, and soccer superstars are building our first women’s pro league. Pickleball’s popularity isn’t dying down anytime soon—but Hockey Canada remains on the rocks. 
HG Watson

1. Canada’s men’s basketball team will return to the Olympics

It’s been 23 years since the Canadian men’s basketball team last played on the Olympic stage—but they’re finally poised to make their big comeback. In September of 2023, the team clinched its spot with a 88–85 victory over Spain at the Basketball World Cup. Leading the squad is Hamilton-raised Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Oklahoma City Thunder star point guard who averaged 31.4 points a game last season. The rest of the roster is stacked with more Canadian NBA giants, including R.J. Barrett, Dillon Brooks and Dwight Powell. With a strong pool of talent and a bronze medal at the Basketball World Cup, there’s every chance the team could end up on the podium again in Paris.

2. A women’s pro soccer league will gear up in Canada

It may shock some to learn that Canada, which consistently produces some of the best female soccer players in the world, has no professional league for women. But Diana Matheson—retired soccer star and three-time Olympian—wants to change that by launching a new eight-team women’s league. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, AFC Toronto and Calgary Foothills Soccer Club are already on board, and more announcements about teams and funding will come this year. Although games won’t kick off until 2025 at the earliest, sponsors like CIBC, Canadian Tire and Air Canada have pledged their support, and retiring Canadian soccer icon Christine Sinclair has joined as a brand adviser and ambassador.

3. Hockey Canada will try to rebuild

In 2022, five members of Hockey Canada’s World Junior team were accused of sexually assaulting a woman following a fundraising gala. After that, more issues with hockey culture came to the fore, including claims about exploitative attitudes toward women and a lack of diversity. As Hockey Canada faced a public reckoning, it also lost federal funding and sponsors. In July of 2023, the organization hired Katherine Henderson, the former chief executive of Curling Canada, to steady the ship. In the fall, she revealed her plans to build a league Canadians can trust. That includes addressing hockey’s gender imbalance by recruiting women and girls, and prioritizing ways to make the game more physically and psychologically safe. To do so, there will be new measures in place: for example, players in locker rooms will be required to wear base layers, like shorts and a shirt, so kids will feel more comfortable changing in front of each other.

4. Women will take to the ice in a new professional hockey league

The players are signed, team names are chosen and practice is about to start. The Professional Women’s Hockey League, run by former Leafs general manager Brian Burke, will hit the ice in January. Six teams—located in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston, Minneapolis–St. Paul and the New York City area—will compete until early spring. Ahead of the season, a collective bargaining agreement was ratified; players will be paid between US$35,000 and US$80,000 and have access to benefits including health insurance, a retirement plan and parental leave. The league has already attracted several notable names: Mikyla Grant-Mentis, the first Black player to win the Premier Hockey Federation’s MVP award, will go to Ottawa; Marie-Philip Poulin, three-time gold medal Olympian, to Montreal; and Sarah Nurse, who broke the points record for a single Olympic tournament, to Toronto.

5. Lionel Messi will come to Canada

The sports world was shocked last year when Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi—a Barcelona legend and the most decorated soccer player of all time—announced he was leaving Europe and signing a two-and-half-year contract with Inter Miami in Major League Soccer. Messi, who led his country to a historic victory in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, recently picked up his eighth Ballon d’Or—the sport’s highest individual honour. This year, he’ll make at least two trips north of the border, to play Eastern Conference games against Toronto FC and CF Montreal.

6. Toronto’s Rogers Centre will finish its epic facelift

When the Toronto Blue Jays play their home opener this year, the Rogers Centre will look like a brand new ballpark. The stadium’s renovation kicked off in 2022, and its most recent phase will overhaul the 100-level area with more comfortable seats (that finally have cupholders) and new vantage points with better views of the diamond. The reno will also add three new premium club sections, including a sports bar with a view of the field, a decked-out lounge and all-new menus. The Rogers Centre’s neighbour, Scotiabank Arena, is also undergoing a $350-million renovation that will add grab-and-go concessions on the concourse level and renovate the club-level boxes.

7. Private single-game sports betting will expand to more provinces…

In 2021, when the federal government rolled back the federal ban on single-game sports betting, most provinces offered it through their provincial gaming agencies. But the change has also opened doors for private operators. Ontario, currently the only province that allows an open market, is awash in sports betting opportunities led by major corporations including BetMGM, Caesars and DraftKings. Lobbyists for the gaming industry are now pushing for the market to open in Quebec as well.

8. …While the feds will regulate its advertising

With the expansion of single-game sports betting come new and tighter rules around advertising. This year, a federal framework will likely go into place, aiming to set national standards that help spread awareness about gambling addictions and regulate sports betting advertising. This could include restrictions on the number or the location of sports betting ads. Policy-makers are even considering limiting or banning celebrity and athlete appearances altogether, in line with Ontario’s rule change last year (so long, Aaron Paul).

9. Pros will pick up pickleball

Pickleball, an addictive combination of tennis and Ping-Pong, has become wildly popular in the last few years. (There’s even chatter it could become an Olympic sport.) The Professional Pickleball Association, which hosts the leading professional pickleball tour, recently picked up a famous Canadian: the Montreal-born tennis star Eugenie Bouchard, who became the first Canadian to advance to the final of a major singles tournament when she played at Wimbledon in 2014. In 2024, she’ll take on the PPA’s tournaments across the United States. Canadian pickleball lovers can also catch some home games when the Canadian National Pickleball League kicks off its new season. Launched in 2023, the CNPL has eight teams, including the West Coast Wolverines, Montreal Lions and Toronto United Pickleball Club (last year’s victors).

10. Calgary will break ground on the Flames’ new home

Visit the Saddledome while you can. This year, the iconic stadium—built to host the Calgary Flames and as part of the bid for the 1988 Olympics—will be demolished to make way for a new $800-million arena. The construction won’t stop there: upcoming downtown developments include an event centre and entertainment district, filled with bars, restaurants and shops not far from the Flames’ new home. This project, estimated to cost $1.2 billion in total, is expected to wrap up in 2027.

This article is part of the Year Ahead 2024, which is Maclean’s annual look at everything that’s coming your way next year. You can buy the print version right here.