OTTAWA – The Canadian Premier League unveiled its eighth club this past week – and its first that is poised to be fully bilingual.
Atlético Ottawa’s unveiling at TD Place Stadium prominently featured Canada’s two official languages, English and French, as the capital region became the first expansion location for the CPL.
With Quebec’s bubbling soccer market quite literally in the background for commissioner David Clanachan, who has outlined expansion to Quebec as a marked goal, Tuesday marked a dip into the French language waters for the CPL.
Let’s be clear – this is far from bringing clubs to Montreal and Quebec City, markets that deserve CPL opportunities, too. But, it is a step in the right direction as the league looks to reach out to Francophone soccer fans.
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Bytown Boys supporters group president Simon Colverson is bilingual, and points out that Ottawa’s French-speaking fans used to make themselves heard on the terraces of TD Place Stadium during Ottawa Fury games.
“We’ve always been actively bilingual in the stands,” Colverson told CanPL.ca, referencing his group’s tendency to use French and English. “But in a natural way. Some chants develop in one language or the other. French works because enough people know it and we teach it to those who don’t know.”
Atlético Ottawa strategic partner Jeff Hunt talks about local soccer fans and the return of the sport to the nation’s capital in the aftermath of the Ottawa Fury ceasing operations.
Ottawa’s inclusion is set to bring a marked shift of Francophone speakers into the league – and offers a reason to bring French to the table. OneSoccer’s Kurt Larson told supporters at a pub event in Ottawa on the day of the launch they plan to hire French-speaking staff soon.
Serge Léger, also a member of the Bytown Boys, grew up in New Brunswick and moved to Ottawa for work.
“It gets me,” Léger said. “When I’m spoken to in French it’s like I’m being spoken to. That’s how this feels. It’s who I am. The fact I speak French is who I am. Being a New Brunswicker, and being in the minority there, just makes it more crucial.
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“It’s important for my club.”
For Colverson bringing French to the table is natural, and only sets up potential rivalries once Quebec sides arrive in the CPL.
“We want to be honest to our city,” Colverson concluded, adding the group is looking at road trips for the 2020 season – something previously made difficult in the American USL loop – and bringing French chants and banners to other CPL stadiums in 2020.
“We want to be organically bilingual, the way we are in the home and out and about. When something clicks in French, we say it in French, when something clicks in English, we say it in English.
“That’s who we are.”