The second wave of Canadian sports

Canada's Mike Fuailefau (R) passes the ball while being tackled by South Africa's Ryan Oosthuizen during the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series at BC Place stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 8, 2020. (Photo by Don MacKinnon / AFP) (Photo by DON MACKINNON/AFP via Getty Images)

The second wave of Canadian Sports has just begun with the three sports of cricket, rugby league, and rugby union getting professional sports teams or leagues in Canada.

This all started with the Toronto Wolfpack, which was born in 2016, but began life as pro rugby league team in 2017. That team now leads a ‘second wave’ of professional sport’s content that has offered Canadian fans more and more options in the new millennium. 

Canadian Sports – meet the Second Wave

Canada will get its second professional rugby league team called the Ottawa Aces XIII. They have been approved by the Rugby Football League (RFL) to play in League One in 2021.

In 2018, the Global T20 Canada cricket league was both formed and started play, with five Canadian and one West Indies team.

They started at King’s City, but since has moved their games to Brampton in 2019. Furthermore, the 2019 West Indies team was replaced by the Brampton Wolves, who made their debut in 2019.

Lastly, rugby union finally got a professional sports team based in Canada. In 2019, the Toronto Arrows played their first-ever season in Major League Rugby (MLR), a pro rugby union league in the U.S.

Each venture has added greatly to well established leagues, that now serve as examples that Rugby League, Cricket, and professional Rugby Union can emulate.

First Wave of Canadian Sports

These sports will follow the footsteps of soccer, basketball and tennis, which were the first wave of Canadian sports. In 1995, Canadian basketball changed forever when the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies played their first-ever NBA game in 1995.

12 years later, Canada would get its first-tier pro soccer team in Toronto FC. Both sports have increased their number of sports teams with new pro sports leagues in the last 10 years.

Canada also had unprecedented success in tennis, which includes Bianca Andreescu winning the US Open and Rogers Cup Finals against Serena Williams last year.

This article will look at how cricket, rugby league, and rugby union will develop in the next 10-years. There is a lot of growth expected to come from all these sports, as well as their national representative sides for the foreseeable future.

The next wave of Pro Sports – Rugby League

As mentioned before, the Toronto Wolfpack and the Ottawa Aces are the two professional teams in Canada. At least with the Wolfpack, they are following the Toronto Raptors model. To learn more about the Ottawa Aces XIII, read this previous article.

This model is to have mainly foreign players on the team. These foreign players will popularize the game in Canada and players will start to come from the Greater Toronto area. In the case of the Raptors, these players did not start coming in huge waves until 2011. This was 16 years after the Raptors played their inaugural season in 1995.

The Ottawa Aces XIII also has a similar plan to the Toronto Wolfpack. However, the Aces have also planned to have an academy. This might accelerate the number of Canadian players in Ottawa compared to Toronto. Eric Perez, founder of the Wolfpack and Aces said this in the Howlin Hour podcast:

“Canada will be a top four rugby league nation in 25 years.” Perez adding, “when I say top four, I mean right there with New Zealand and England.”

Canadian Rugby League national teams

The Canada Wolverines, their men’s national team was founded in 2010 have yet to qualify for the Rugby League World Cup. However, the women’s national team, the Canada Ravens finished tied for third in the 2017 Women’s Rugby League World Cup.

The Canada Ravens are set to play next year against England, Papua New Guinea, and Brazil. To read more about the Canada Ravens group read this previous article.

Perez also had this to say in the Howlin Hour podcast:

“I think 20 years from now, and Sonny Bill Williams will play a role in this, bringing it full circle. Rugby league will be one of the staple sports in Canada, there will be four or five teams in Canada.”

According to Neil Davidson of The Canadian Press, Perez revealed that both Montreal and Vancouver are interested in rugby league teams. However, it is important to note that rugby league is still a relatively new sport in Canada compared to other sports like cricket and rugby union.

Rugby Union – from Amateur to Professional

In 1991, the Canadian men’s rugby union team was thriving. They were in the Rugby World Cup quarter finals and lost to New Zealand 29-13. They would continue to be competitive, however from 2003 onwards they have become less competitive. A lot of that had to do with other nations getting professional rugby union leagues and teams up and running.

This has caused a gap between the elite rugby union teams and Canada. Furthermore, the Rugby Canada Super League, a semi-pro rugby union league that started in 1998 folded in 2009.

It was replaced by the Canadian Rugby Championship, an amateur competition that has been in existence since 2011, but with only four teams. However, looking at the positives, their women’s national team was a finalist in the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

Canada failed to get a win at both the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cup’s. However, there is room for optimism with the men’s team. The Toronto Arrows became the first-ever professional rugby union team in Canada to play in the US-based MLR.

They started play last year losing out in the semi-finals. Before the MLR season was cancelled this year, the Arrows were in first place in the Eastern Division with a record of four wins and one loss. According to Darren Clause of LiveWire Rugby, Halifax and Vancouver have also expressed interest in an MLR team.

Most importantly, the Arrows are committed to having Canadian players on the team. The Arrows have an academy that started in January. According to the Toronto Arrows website, they are after post-secondary athletes as a way to find more talent in Toronto.

Cricket – booming in the T20 environment

Canada has qualified for the Cricket World Cup four times, including three times in a row in 2003, 2007, and 2011. However, Canada has since gone through some tough times which included losing their One Day International status. Canada though has hope with the new Global T20 Canada League.

Starting in 2018 at King City, the new league has found a niche in the Greater Toronto Area market. In 2019, after moving the league to Brampton at the CAA Centre, the league has seen an increase in both viewership and in-person attendance according to the GT20 Canada website.

Bombay Sports Co., an Indian company is the owner’s new Global T20 Canada League. Their vision includes making it to the 2023 Cricket World Cup. “It is our goal that the Global T20 Canada League will produce a world class national team that reaches the quarter final round of the 2023 Cricket World Cup.

“This outcome will only occur if Canadian players are provided with international opportunities, which the global T20 Canada provides.”

Canadian Cricket: recent Form and Results

Canada failed to qualify for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in 2020 but was able to beat test side Ireland last year. More importantly, there is a lot of growth and investment in cricket recently. There are plans to have a cricket stadium in the city of Brampton according to Norm Da Costa of the Toronto Sun.

Also, Gurmeet Singh, the founder of Global T20 Canada, revealed his plans for Cricket Canada. This includes Canadian cricket men’s players earning $30,000 per year according to Norm Da Costa of the Toronto Sun.

“We want to make it as professional an environment for the players as possible who now have to juggle between full-time jobs and play the game on a part-time basis. We’ve asked Cricket Canada to select 24 players from the national squad, the developmental squad and the under-19 team to start training at a cricket academy in Toronto and then embark on their first trip later this year to Australia.”

Like both codes of rugby, there is a big investment in cricket, which will grow the game in Canada. The women’s cricket team has never made it to the Women’s World Cup.

Overview of the Second Wave of Canadian Sports

It is too early to say where these three specific sports will land up in the future. All these sports teams and leagues are only a few years old. Seeing the results of these new investments in the second wave of Canadian sports will take time and will not happen immediately.

If all goes according to plan, the Canadian men’s cricket team will be the first one to make a big jump. The Wolverines will probably follow suit. However, it will take longer as more players play cricket in Canada right now than rugby league.

Lastly, the men’s rugby union team will improve and should be able to be competitive again in the Rugby World Cup. However, for Canada to be a tier-one nation in men’s rugby union will depend on two things. One is stability and standard of MLR 20 years from now. The other is a need to have more pro rugby union teams in Canada.

There are more countries that play rugby union than rugby league. It will be harder for rugby union whose men team is nicknamed “Canucks” to become an elite nation like cricket and rugby league is projected to be in a generation.

 

“Main photo credit”

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