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Review

Bob Lenarduzzi: A Canadian Soccer Story

By Bob Lenarduzzi and Jim Taylor

Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics That Changed a Country

By John Furlong with Gary Mason

A Season to Remember: The Vancouver Canucks' Incredible 40th Year

By Grant Kerr

November 4, 2013

Review By Eric W. Sager

John Furlong’s book is neither an autobiography nor a history of the 2010 Winter Olympics. It is a personal memoir by the CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Games (VANOC), written with the assistance of journalist Gary Mason. Since it is not an autobiography, the account of Furlong’s life and career before he became involved in the bid for the Olympics is brief (a mere 29 pages), focusing mainly on his youthful enthusiasm for sports prior to his emigration from Ireland to Canada. The memoir offers a highly selective window onto the administration and promotion of sport as a global capitalist enterprise and as a nationalist mission. The main characters in the story are not the athletes themselves, although many are given enthusiastic recognition. The main characters are the builders of the Games — a huge cast of Canadian and international sports administrators, sponsors, corporation presidents, media executives, politicians, entertainment impresarios, and thousands of volunteers. Furlong is both generous in acknowledging the contributions of VANOC’s many partners, and blunt in identifying perceived weakness and error. He is particularly aggrieved by some of the media coverage, which, from the author’s perspective, turned glitches into national disasters.

Furlong takes us into the high-pressure world of sports administration at this level: a complex management process is undertaken in a fish bowl, under the intense and unforgiving gaze of media, politicians and taxpayers. The CEO is trying to co-ordinate a vast array of unstable elements, each with their own agendas: international sports federations, the International Olympic Committee, the Canadian Olympic Committee, three levels of government, television corporations, his own management team, and an element beyond human control but requiring rapid remedial efforts nonetheless — the weather. This is a world ruled by events both unexpected and tragic. The CEO can cope with a symphony orchestra that refuses to perform, and even a hydraulic arm that fails during the opening ceremonies. He can do nothing to soften the grief following the death of an athlete in a training run on the luge course.

For the historian of the future who attempts to write a history of these Games, or the history of sport as capitalist enterprise in the early twenty-first century, this book will be a valuable primary source. For what it includes and what it omits, Furlong’s account is deeply revealing. The Cultural Olympiad merits a mere two paragraphs (254-55). The importance of Aboriginal construction companies is acknowledged, but Furlong ignores the role of Aboriginal leaders in the initiation of the bid for the Games, and readers learn nothing about the debates over the Games’ appropriation of Aboriginal cultural images. Protesters appear briefly, but one hears nothing of the debates they unleashed over ballooning security costs, the Sea-to-Sky highway, Vancouver’s notorious levels of poverty and homelessness, and whether or not low-cost housing would be a Games legacy. The naysayers are either silenced or briefly caricatured, their opposition drowned out by the tsunami of Canadian patriotism that sustains Furlong and guides his vision for the Games. “The Olympics That Changed a Country,” trumpets the book’s title. “Our mission was to touch the soul of the country,” declares its author (96). Hyperbole, to be sure; but perhaps no lesser motives can explain the commitment, individual and collective, that allowed this project to occur. Furlong’s book is valuable not least because it is testimony to the power of sport to equate itself with national interest and national identity.

Bob Lenarduzzi’s “Canadian Soccer Story”, when read together with Furlong’s memoir, offers a reminder of the peculiar historical impact of capitalist sport and its alliance with media capitalism in Canada. Where a Winter Olympics or an ice hockey final can saturate the media and claim to represent “patriot hearts,” the most popular team sport in the world, and also in Canada in terms of the number of participants, allows itself no discursive claim to identity with the nation. Lenarduzzi has never claimed to touch the soul of Canada; he played football, he coached and managed teams, and he promoted his sport. Yet he tells us much more than does Furlong about the world of professional athletes and the commitment that participation can inspire; and his sport has as much to tell us about Canada and our sports culture as does athletics or hockey.

“I will talk soccer with anyone” (9), Lenarduzzi tells us, and so he shares stories that are “too heartwarming and funny to be locked away in memories” (10). There was Willie Johnston, who once preceded a corner kick by buying a greenhouse from a nearby fan; and Robbie Campbell, who dumped his unwanted pasta behind Lenarduzzi’s mother’s stereo speakers; and the Whitecaps’ coach who blamed the team’s slump on the “poisonous” effect of sex. There are larger stories too, born of their time and place: the game in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1985 when the Canadian team defeated Honduras and earned a place in the World Cup finals; and the last game ever played by a Canadian team at the World Cup, which fans back home could not watch because the television broadcast was pre-empted by Sesame Street; and the World Cup qualifying matches at Swangard Stadium, where the majority of the crowd cheered for the visiting team.

Lenarduzzi takes us from the original Whitecaps of the North American Soccer League, to the Vancouver 86ers of the Canadian Soccer League, to the new Whitecaps of Major League Soccer in our own time. He is a genial and witty guide, but humour evaporates when he comes to analyze the sorry condition of the men’s national program today, the structural problems of the Canadian Soccer Association, and our amateurish approach to player development. While our American neighbours invest vast sums in a campaign to win the World Cup, Canadians take themselves out of the world’s major sports event, and do not even seem to care. The women’s program offers more hope, grounded in both numbers and an unparalleled history of dedication and determination. But here too Lenarduzzi’s analysis is sobering: the needs are the same as for the men’s program. “If we stand still, we’re doomed (199).” Lenarduzzi gives us a very enjoyable read, some cogent analysis of the state of his sport, and a very Canadian story.

Grant Kerr, journalist and hockey coach, has produced a fine gift book for fans of the Vancouver Canucks. If you want an expert guide to the team, the players, and their progress through the 2010-11 season, here it is. If you want an account of the riots in Vancouver that followed defeat to the Boston Bruins, or if you want any insight into the dysfunctional corporate cartel that dominates this sport at the professional level, look elsewhere. This is a book for fans, beautifully illustrated and well produced, as one has come to expect from Harbour Publishing.

Here are three very Canadian sports books, each with its own merits. Preferences will vary, but if I had to choose a pleasurable read, I would take the memoirs of the Italian-Canadian kid from East Vancouver who became one of Canada’s finest soccer players.

Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics That Changed a Country
By John Furlong with Gary Mason 
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2011. 344 pp. $32.95 cloth

Bob Lenarduzzi: A Canadian Soccer Story
By Bob Lenarduzzi and Jim Taylor 
Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2011. 224 pp. 40 b&w photos. $28.95 cloth

A Season To Remember: The Vancouver Canucks’ Incredible 40th Year
By Grant Kerr 
Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2011. 232 pp. 60 colour photos. $19.95 paper