Canada’s men’s soccer team declined to play a scheduled World Cup warm-up match against Panama due to a contract dispute between the players and the sport’s national governing body.
Canada Soccer has confirmed that the match, scheduled for Sunday at BC Place in Vancouver, was canceled less than two hours before kick-off. Hundreds of disappointed fans dressed in red and white uniforms lingered outside the stadium after the news broke.
The Canadian players released a statement on Sunday afternoon saying they had decided not to play along because negotiations over a new deal had been “unnecessarily prolonged”.
“It’s time we took a stand for the future of soccer in Canada,” the statement said, noting that talks began in March.
Players have said they want more transparency from Canada Soccer, changes in the organization’s leadership and World Cup compensation that includes 40% of prize money and a “full package for players”. friends and family” for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
“We want to work with our organization, but the relationship has been strained for years,” the statement said. “And now Canada Soccer has disrespected our team and compromised our efforts to raise the standards and effectively advance the game in Canada. »
The players’ proposal is not financially viable, says Canada Soccer President Nick Bontis.
“My job as president is a responsibility to the fiduciary and stable health of this organization, not just for the last 120 years that we’ve lived, but for the next 100 years we’re going to be alive,” he told a press conference on Sunday afternoon. “And I cannot accept this offer which will put our organization in an untenable financial situation.”
Players also want a review of the deal Canada Soccer signed with Canadian Soccer Business in 2019. The 10-year deal sees Canadian Soccer Business represent the men’s and women’s national teams in all sponsorship and broadcast deals.
The player statement says the deal “completely compromises (Canada Soccer’s) ability to leverage the on-field success of our senior national teams.”
“We need the terms of this agreement disclosed and corrected,” he said. “We want to know who signed this deal that has handcuffed our association. Why has Canada Soccer given up autonomy on the biggest opportunity to grow our program in years? »
Bontis defended the deal, saying Canada Soccer Business played a “pivotal” role in building the sport in Canada.
Canada Soccer Business President Scott Mitchell released a statement on Sunday night saying he “fully supports” Canada Soccer’s call for more transparency.
“We are proud of our agreement with Canada Soccer and what it means for the Canadian soccer ecosystem,” he said. “We are prepared to be fully transparent about our agreement which has included an unprecedented amount of revenue for Canada Soccer over the past 18 months in the form of sponsorships and international media dollars.”
The players are also calling for a fair compensation structure for men’s and women’s teams, and the development of a national women’s league.
The United States Soccer Federation recently agreed to collective agreements that for the first time equalized pay for men’s and women’s teams.
Canada canceled a pair of training sessions scheduled for Friday and Saturday due to the contract dispute.
With the World Cup due to begin in November, the Canadians are wasting valuable time together on the pitch, Bontis said.
“I’m sorry the game didn’t happen today, not just for the fans. But I’m sorry for the technical staff, the coaching staff,” he said. head coach) John Herdman, at the start of this window, has had 16 training sessions with the national team between now and Qatar. This number has increased to 14 today.
“We cannot afford to miss these opportunities to see our men display the performances that I know they are capable of when they go to Qatar.”
The men’s team has not played at home since beating Jamaica 4-0 in Toronto on March 27 and clinched a World Cup berth. It’s been even longer since the team played in Vancouver, with their last appearance in March 2019, when Canada beat French Guiana 4-1 in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying.
Canada, ranked 38th in the world, are due to kick off the CONCACAF Nations League game against 79th-ranked Curacao in Vancouver on June 9.
“We want to apologize to our fans,” the players said in their statement. “Playing at home with your support is everything to us. We hope Canada Soccer will take decisive steps to work with our team so that we can be back on the pitch for our match (in Vancouver) on June 9.”
Canada Soccer could face fines if the men’s team withdraws from Nations League competition.
It’s a scenario the organization is always trying to avoid, Bontis said.
“If we don’t reach an agreement and the players refuse to play the Curaçao match, it will be a CONCACAF issue to be resolved under the auspices of FIFA,” he said. “But our intention has always been to continue to find a solution as soon as possible.”
This is not the first time that Canada Soccer has canceled a match scheduled for the current international window. Canada was originally scheduled to host Iran in a friendly match at BC Place on Sunday, but the game drew heavy criticism, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying it was “not a very good idea” to invite Iran. Iranian team to play.
An Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on January 8, 2020 shortly after takeoff from Tehran, killing 176 people, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
Over 40,000 tickets for the Canada-Iran match were sold before it was canceled by Canada Soccer on May 26. Panama was named a replacement opponent on May 31.
Canada have not played at a World Cup since 1986. They are set to open this year’s tournament on November 23 against 2nd-placed Belgium before facing 16th-placed Croatia on November 27 and 24th-placed Morocco on 1st December.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 5, 2022.