Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Yesterday, the Vancouver Whitecaps declared that they were making a "major strategic announcement". Once the usual hopes of "new training centre" and even "new stadium" were ruled out, fans were braced for disappointment... but the announcement was actually pretty bloody major. The team has named 61-year-old John Furlong its new executive chair. Furlong will be the club's senior management executive; the top of a triangle that will include president Bob Lenarduzzi and COO Rachel Lewis.
If you know Vancouver sports, you probably know who John Furlong is. But if you don't, he was the man in charge of Vancouver's 2010 Olympics: CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC), chief of the bid that brought the Olympics to this city in the first place. He was VANOC's public face as well as its driving organizational force. As sports executives go, nobody in Canada has a higher profile.
Furlong has connections in Vancouver. He's proven, on the biggest possible stage, that he can navigate the morass of Lower Mainland politics and make things happen. He also organized a tremendously successful event and came out with a lot of credit. His is a name which is respected and known, not by everybody, but even among the most casual sports community in Vancouver.
Under Furlong's leadership, facilities were built in Vancouver, in Richmond, in Burnaby, on the University of British Columbia, and even further afield to host and support the Olympics. Of course he had public money, but he also had the patience, the connections, and the knowledge to get those projects completed in cities which struggle to cooperate on anything. With the Whitecaps so often caught up in politics trying to just get a training ground, that alone has to be a promising sign.
Not often a team announces an executive hiring and a fan can say "wow, that is huge". Yet here we are.