Newcomer soccer fanship project launched in Winnipeg and Greater Vancouver

One of the best ways to engage the New to Canada population in quality sport is to encourage their existing interests, including their love of soccer. Having a positive experience off the field of play can give them the opportunity to be involved in Canadian culture through fanship, making them feel welcomed and invested in the sport community. 

Sport for Life has hypothesized a fan experience model that could reduce cultural and social barriers to sport participation among New to Canada Participants. These include unfamiliarity with the Canadian sport system, insufficient information on how to get involved in organized sport, and a need for more social connection. This model has been successful in both Scotland and Canada at achieving health-related outcomes. 

“There’s nothing quite like sitting in the stands when everyone erupts in cheers over a goal, waving their flags and jumping out of their seats. We want to give people who are New to Canada experiences that will stay with them lifelong, making them feel like honoured members of the community and encouraging them to engage in quality sport in the future,” said Kabir Hosein, Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives at Sport for Life.

“Put simply, we’re giving them the opportunity to be fans – an experience they may be missing from their home country. Through this project, the entire Canadian quality sport culture will benefit.”

Removing barriers for New to Canada Participants

Sport Canada has approved the proposal, and the pilot aims to address New to Canada Participants’ need for established relationships with local sport and physical activity organizations, contributing to lower participation rates in organized sport. 

Canada Soccer is working with Sport For Life to learn how organizations such as Ismaili Youth Soccer Academy (IYSA) and Winnipeg Newcomer Sport Academy (WNSA) are effectively engaging newcomer participants via their programs and also assisting by connecting them with the PSO.The program will engage self-identifying racialized newcomer soccer fans or those familiar with/involved in soccer.

“We at IYSA are grateful to have the support from Sport for Life and Canada Soccer on this project. We are excited to provide opportunities for newcomers within our community to get a sense of Canadian Culture,” said Imran Ranmall of IYSA. 

“Through this initiative and future funding opportunities we can continue to remove barriers for the newcomers when they arrive in Canada. We are already seeing some success with the community we are trying to build, it’s more than just the stuff on the field.”

The program focuses on the equity-deserving populations of Winnipeg and Greater Vancouver. The University of Western Ontario’s Centre for Studies in Public Health and Family Medicine will be the evaluation partner, guiding the framework while tracking and monitoring how successful the pilot is at achieving the desired outcomes. These include increasing participants’ understanding of the sport system and creating more social connections to the Canadian community via fanship. 

In Vancouver, the pilot aims to build a positive fanship experience by having participants attend Vancouver Whitecaps games while wearing team gear and possibly going for a meal post-match. There will also be a viewing party for the Women’s World Cup. Fifteen adults will be given the opportunity to learn and grow as coaches and referees as well. This mentorship is integral to making New to Canada Participants feel more comfortable in the community.

In Winnipeg, there will be approximately 60 participants between the ages of 8-17, including family members in the capacity-building aspect. The aim is to engage 50% girls/young women and 50% boys/young men. Participants will come from WNSA and Winnnipeg’s Soccer without Borders.

The fanship initiatives will include a Valour FC soccer experience, supporting and being in attendance at the Manitoba African Cup of Nations, and a session and game with the University of Manitoba Bisons women’s soccer team, as well a number of other activities that are currently being developed.  

“It will be great to share the ways these participants are already taking part in soccer as fans, coaches, volunteers, and athletes and hopefully trying a few new activities over the next few months,” said Cara Isaak of WNSA. 

A critical and exciting time

According to Hosein, this program has the potential to have a huge impact on these two cities’ populations. 

“We’re at a critical and exciting time in Canadian history, where we have so many newcomers arriving that are interested in pursuing quality sport opportunities like soccer. This project aims to lower barriers and boost participation for everyone arriving now in our country,” said Hosein. 

“This pilot gives us a chance to gauge how this sort of initiative resonates with New to Canada Participants, as well as provincial and national sport organizations, and provide us with information on how to improve in the future.”

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