By: Stan Anderson
Soccer in Canada is better and bigger than most people realize. Despite player registrations in organized soccer exceeding hockey and many more than baseball, football, and basketball, the beautiful game in Canada is overshadowed by the greater popularity of mainstream sports. Canadian soccer needs help, more exposure to unveil the many young players across the country showing promise of having the skills and talent to be on the edges of a high-level game anywhere in the world.
That’s the opinion of Igor Demitchev after attending hundreds of matches in southern Ontario following his arrival as an immigrant from his native Russia. Demitchev, a Toronto lawyer and principal sponsor of the highly successful FC Vorkuta, will air his views in a documentary on the beIN SPORTS channel to be aired soon.
Demitchev with Samad Kadirov, another Russian immigrant, launched the FC Vorkuta team in a Toronto area indoor league in 2008, a venture that led to the outdoor amateur game in the Thornhill Soccer League in 2009 and several seasons in the Richmond Hill Soccer League winning league and championship titles along the way. Then came the big leap into the professional Canadian Soccer League as an expansion team in 2017.
Professional players from Europe were signed to strengthen the club (with the major assistance of head coach Denys Yanchuk) for entry into Canada’s top league of the day and the Vorkuta team, named after a community on the edge of the Arctic Circle in northern Russia, was an immediate hit. They won the first division league title in the inaugural season, followed by a CSL championship victory in 2018 to continue unabated a winning way and winning attitude that attracted wide attention in the Canadian soccer community.
The flow of players arriving from mostly eastern and central Europe to Vorkuta and other teams in the CSL, all requiring work permits or visas, is subject to reciprocal provisions under the Refugee, Citizenship and Immigration Canada guidelines and is intended to result in a neutral labor market impact with Canadian players having similar reciprocal opportunities abroad. The clause is intended to maintain a reasonable balance between foreign players entering Canada to play for Canadian teams and the number of Canadian players being received by other countries.
While some considered the federal government’s recent close scrutiny of the reciprocity requirement a threat to the ease with which overseas players can be transferred to Canadian clubs, Demitchev considered it an opportunity. More young promising Canadian players will be accepted abroad for trials with high-level clubs, he reasoned. Vorkuta became the first team in the CSL to initiate an exchange program with overseas clubs. The encouragement of team visits and even programs to fight racism in soccer were included in the deal with multiple clubs in Europe.
Such partnerships are encouraged by the ministry and there has been some early success with the transfer of Fadi Salback, the university student from Bowmanville Ontario, spotted in 2019 by an always searching FC Vorkuta. Salback is now playing for FC Podillaya Khmelnytskyi in the Ukrainian Second Division and the Israeli-born goal scorer was described recently as a fan favorite.
“And there are many more on the way as we develop relationships with clubs overseas,” said Demitchev, who grew up in the remote Vorkuta community and who in recent times while in Canada has identified these exchanges as one opportunity to accelerate and do more for the development of Canada’s promising young players, a prerequisite if Canada is to be more competitive on the world stage.
Today, FC Vorkuta is a diverse club of many nationalities with a dozen Canadian league titles and championships since being formed in 2008. Date for release of the FC Vorkuta documentary, which is produced by Alex Bastyovanszky, will be announced soon to be shown on the beIN SPORTS CANADA network. beIN SPORTS is known for its comprehensive sports coverage including gaining the rights to many of the high-level soccer events including UEFA club tournaments, top European leagues, and South American competitions.