April 15th, 2024

New Canada Soccer general secretary Kevin Blue hits the ground running

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on March 15, 2024.

New Canada Soccer general secretary Kevin Blue sees challenge and opportunity ahead as he starts as general secretary and CEO of Canada Soccer. Blue is seen in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Soccer Canada/Bruna Rico

Kevin Blue has hit the ground running as general secretary and CEO of Canada Soccer.

The former Golf Canada executive, who did not wait until Thursday’s official start date to get stuck in, has already flown to see the Canadian women’s team in action at the CONCACAF W Gold Cup in San Diego, issued a number of statements and communicated with close to 200 interested parties.

“I mean what I say when I’m trying to learn and understand the perspective of those who have spent their lives dedicated to Canadian soccer, Canadian football,” Blue said in an interview Friday. “The only way to learn about this and earn the respect and trust of those people is to engage.

“And so that’s what I’m doing. And I’m not going to stop doing that, hopefully forever, but I’m certainly going to maintain this pace of learning in the early days because it’s important for context and it’s important, I think, for leadership.”

Blue sees both opportunity and challenge ahead.

“It’s an extraordinarily critical time for our sport in Canada,” he said.

The 50th-ranked Canadian men face No. 96 Trinidad and Tobago in a March 23 playoff in Frisco, Texas, with the winner slotting into Group A with top-ranked Argentina, No. 33 Peru and No. 42 Chile at this summer’s Copa America. The ninth-ranked Canadian women, meanwhile, look to open defence of their Olympic title come late July in Paris.

And the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which Canada is co-hosting, looms in the not-so-distant future.

Challenges include the ongoing, lengthy labour dispute with both national teams and the financial shackles of the existing agreement with Canadian Soccer Business covering corporate partnerships and broadcast rights.

Blue acknowledges there are “current circumstances that need to be addressed on several fronts.” But not surprisingly, he does not have many answers at this early stage.

Solving the labour dispute is “certainly a top priority,” he said.

On the CSB front, he says the Canadian soccer community needs to “raise its aspirations for the commercial and philanthropic structure and model that is supporting and driving the sport forward in this critical time.

“That’s something that I intend to try and lead forward and try to unify stakeholders behind the concept of more than just continuing old conversations “¦ I’m trying to be very solutions-oriented.”

He says that includes a need for a “more effective commercial environment for the sport in Canada.”

Ensuring the youth pipeline is “well-resourced” is also a priority,

Asked whether he has a time frame to hire a permanent men’s coach, his answer was a simple “no.”

Blue watched the Canadian women lose to the U.S. in a penalty shootout on a waterlogged field last Wednesday.

“(It was) heartbreaking, wet. But nonetheless, it was good to be there to support the team,” he said. “Obviously we were all hoping for a different outcome of what was certainly an eventful game.”

Prior to Golf Canada, where he served as chief sport officer from December 2020, Blue was athletics director at the University of California, Davis, a job he started in May 2016 when he was just 33. Before that, he was senior associate director of athletics at Stanford University, his alma mater.

That involved overseeing 36 teams at Stanford and 25 at UC-Davis.

Expect Blue to be in contact with the community. He did it at his previous jobs, for example, offering practical advice to the 2017 graduating class of UC Davis student-athletes in an open letter, advising them to “find the next thing that you really love to do,” “work very hard early in your career” and “commit yourself to continuous learning.”

“Just like in sports, becoming a top contributor will require that you are getting better every day,” he wrote.

The Canadian women, who formed the Canadian Soccer Players’ Association in 2016, have been without a labour deal since the last one expired at the end of 2021. They have struck an agreement in principle with Canada Soccer on compensation for 2022 and an interim deal for 2023 covering the World Cup but are essentially waiting on the men to settle given the two deals are linked via equal pay.

The men, who organized in the summer of 2022 as the Canada Men’s National Soccer Team Players Association, are working on their first formal labour agreement.

Interim coach Mauro Biello cited the need for a “cultural reset within the men’s team in naming a young roster for the Copa America play-in match.

Blue and wife Betsy and their four kids aged four, 15, 19 and 23 (the three oldest are his stepkids) live in Mississauga, Ont.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2024

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