Next gen inspiration: How the 2015 World Cup changed young lives in New Brunswick
N.B. athlete says the Moncton event was “game-changing” but more could be done to help young players
When Olivia Rowinski was 14 years old, she had a life-changing experience.
She and her Fredericton teammates travelled to Moncton to see Australia and Brazil play at the World Cup. Moncton was one of the host cities for the women's tournament in 2015, and Rowinski had just started playing soccer. There, she got to see Marta Vieira da Silva, one of the best players in women's soccer history.
For me personally, it was game-changing.- Olivia Rowinski
"I think we were all just gawking over her. It was really just overwhelming," said Rowinski.
"Watching that game, it triggered a first thought in my head thinking … wouldn't this be cool if I ever got to represent my country at a tournament against other countries."
That became her goal.
"For me personally, it was game-changing."
In 2026, many young Canadian athletes may get to have a similar experience, with the men's World Cup to be played in Mexico, the United States and Canada.
The Moncton impact
Moncton was one of six cities to host the women's World Cup in 2015. The average attendance was more than 11,000 fans per game during the seven games there.
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Holding that tournament, along with the women's U20 FIFA tournament in 2014, cost Moncton a $450,000 hosting fee.
Isabelle LeBlanc, communications director for the City of Moncton, couldn't provide the total cost of hosting these two world class events, but she said the economic spin-off came to $22.5 million, according to an impact study. It also gave Moncton global attention.
"A city our size could never have that much notoriety on any single initiative," said LeBlanc.
Younes Bouida, executive director of Soccer New Brunswick, was at every one of the World Cup games in 2015. He said after the tournament was over, he noticed the provincial women's team was energized.
"I think it inspired many kids," said Bouida. "You could see just the energy and the enthusiasm after those games."
Bouida said that since then, there have been more people registering to play soccer. He says that before the World Cup, 13,900 people were signed up to play soccer across the province. Now, there are 15,300 registered players.
The year following her World Cup experience, Olivia Rowinski set aside the other sports she played to focus on soccer. For the past two years she's lived away from her family, attending the high performance academy in Moncton.
Rowinski is now one of the top players in New Brunswick, and she played for the province's Canada Games team in 2017. But her dream to play for the national team has wavered over the past year.
"I hate to say it, but I've had times where I kind of just tell myself, 'Olivia, you're ridiculous. Why do you think you could do something this big?' Like, 'You're only from Fredericton, New Brunswick. No one really looks at the Maritimes for anything soccer.'"
Rowinski said that as a New Brunswick athlete, she doesn't get the attention from Soccer Canada and other coaches around the country.
"It's really just not being networked. You don't always know the right people, you don't have the connections to certain coaches," she said.
A month ago, Rowinski went to one of the biggest soccer showcases in Toronto, where at each game there would be about 20 coaches watching her play. It was only her third time receiving that kind of exposure.
If they were given that opportunity and had their name on the back of a Team Canada jersey ... it would just open more girls up to want to try ...- Olivia Rowinski
For Rowinski, it was great seeing top soccer players from across the globe in Moncton, but that's not enough.
Rowinski said it would be more meaningful to see a Maritime athlete playing for Team Canada.
"If they were given that opportunity, and had their name on the back of a Team Canada jersey, and ... standing in line with a big crowd cheering, I think it would just open more girls up to want to try and want to push themselves," she said.
And that motivates Rowinski to become the one to inspire other young women who share her dream.
James Rowinski has watched his daughter chase her dreams over the past four years. He was willing to send her to the high performance academy in Moncton, which started in 2012.
But not everyone is able to do that, and it's even more expensive for athletes outside of the Moncton area. Accommodations cost out-of-town athletes $5,000 per year and there's no financial help to cover that expense. Rowinski said there need to be more facilities to help young athletes improve their craft, regardless of where they are in the province.
"There's a missing element," said James Rowinski.
"There's a missed opportunity with a lot of these players when we don't provide the facilities, when we don't provide the financial support and when we don't create the kind of competitive environment for those young players who are passionate about getting to that next stage."
The executive director of Soccer New Brunswick agrees. There are only two indoor soccer fields in the province, and Younes Bouida said there is a clear need for more infrastructure.
"We don't have enough indoor facilities to play year round to move them to the next level," he said..
Bouida hopes the 2026 World Cup will be able to help with that.
"We understand that the World Cup will bring a lot of investment in the game and internal infrastructure and development of officials, of coaches, and of administrators," he said.
Dream isn't done yet
Though Olivia Rowinski has yet to get the call to play for the national team, she hasn't given up just yet. She takes inspiration from Diana Matheson.
"I still have motivation and drive to still push myself to get to that next level because I know for some girls who play on the national team, they weren't scouted until they were maybe 19," said Rowinski.
"They were playing at a university level, and they surprised people."
Rowinski is 17, and still has a year left of high school. Then she wants to play Division 1 soccer in the United States. She hopes then, Soccer Canada will take notice and she can live her dream of playing for a national team.
"If I don't I'm not going to be dissatisfied," said Rowinski. "But if I do, I mean that would be incredible. It would be incredible."