CALGARY — Combining horses with soccer isn't a stretch at Spruce Meadows, according to the equestrian facility's senior vice-president.
Calgary's team in the new Canadian Premier League starting in 2019 will play out of Spruce Meadows, which since 1975 has hosted the world's best horses and riders in major competitions.
The CPL, with its motto "For Canadians. By Canadians," is rolling out the names of cities that will field teams in the league's inaugural season.
Calgary, Halifax, Port City in B.C., and York Region in Ontario have joined Winnipeg and Hamilton among the declared teams. About eight to 10 are expected when the league launches next year.
Spruce Meadows, founded by Ron and Margaret Southern, was built in part to give Canadian riders the chance to compete against and beat the best in the world in show jumping.
Olympic medallists Eric Lamaze and Ian Millar have repeatedly credited Spruce Meadows with providing them and their horses the seasoning to win on the world stage.
Spruce Meadows wants to do the same for Canadian soccer players, says senior vice-president Ian Allison.
"I'm speaking about the men right now because the women are the gold standard," he said. "The fact of the matter is we've got a couple million young boys playing soccer in this country.
"They have no where to go after they've finished. There's never been a pathway. That's shown in our inability to qualify for the World Cup, which we haven't done since 1986."
Part of the CPL's vision is "to increase the national team pool and create competition with the goal of Canada qualifying and competing for the FIFA World Cup."
Equestrian's world governing body, FEI, has dubbed Spruce Meadows the world's top show jumping venue multiple times.
When Spruce Meadows celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015, the company said the venue had drawn over 10 million visitors since opening.
The expansive facility in southwest Calgary has numerous equestrian rings and thus room for a stadium that seats between 5,000 and 7,000, Allison said.
"We do have the ability within our current campus, if we're fortunate enough one day to be drawing more than the five to seven thousand we expect per game, then we have the ability to move forward in a non-complicated manner," he said.
"We ourselves our very used to running a professional sports franchise, but one without at team and one not in a league. We're a little bit more like Augusta or Wimbledon that way.
"We have things in place that also make sense whether it be our parking, our food and beverage, our ticketing protocols and all those kinds of things that are quite different that most start-ups aren't fortunate enough to have.
"Another advantage we have that very few in the world have is we have real grass here and players love real grass."
The Calgary team's name and logo will likely be announced within the month, Allison said.
Ron and Margerat Southern were inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame as builders in 2006. Ron Southern died in 2016 at age 83.
His daughter Linda Southern-Heathcott, who competed in show jumping at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, took over as president and CEO of Spruce Meadows in 2006.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press