Canada’s Olympic champion women’s team making sure its voice is heard in battle with Canada Soccer

Last Sunday, more than 20,000 fans prepared to gather at BC Place in Vancouver to watch the Canadian men’s soccer team (CANMNT) take on Panama in an international friendly match.

But the players did not enter the pitch and the match was canceled a few hours before the whistle. Why? Because of a contractual dispute. players, like first reported by Rick Westhead of TSNpublished a letter explaining their position.

They had questions and concerns about their own salary and the payment by FIFA for World Cup qualification – around $10 million. According to the letter, the players are asking for 40% of the money as well as compensation for their families to attend the tournament in Qatar later this year.

Since July last year, Canada’s Women’s and Men’s National Teams have climbed to the top step of the Olympic podium and respectively finished first in World Cup qualifying. The men’s team has qualified for this year’s Men’s World Cup, which hasn’t been done since 1986. The momentum is building and the cheers from the fans are strong.

Thanks to the continued success of the women’s team, Canada has always been a soccer nation and the men’s performance only reaffirmed that. But while the excitement among players and fans is palpable, there have been a series of missteps by Canada Soccer executives.

Last week, a scheduled match between CANMNT and Iran was canceled after public outcry, including a reprimand from the Prime Minister. While the opportunity to play against a higher ranked FIFA team makes sense from a pure competition perspective, the social implications of playing against Iran are adverse. Two years ago, an airliner was shot down by Iranian forces, killing all 176 people on board, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents. That Canada Soccer was unable to identify the opponent as a potential problem raises questions about leadership. Our athletes deserve better.

That the men’s contract is not already settled a few months before the World Cup is also not a good idea.

In their letter, the players said they had been “disrespected” and said their relationship with their employer “has been strained for years”. The language used is intentional and important to note.

They also asked about the transparency of Canada Soccer’s finances, including an agreement reached with the Canadian soccer company (CSB) the players claim “handcuffs” from the organization.

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Truth be told, this isn’t the first time one of Canada’s national teams has had questions about contracts or payment. Canada’s National Women’s Team (CANWNT) has been negotiating its contract since January. They have their own World Cup qualifiers from July and, as the reigning Olympic gold medalists, should perform well.

But the CANWNT has already told us and warned us that Canada Soccer does not meet its standards and needs. Diana Matheson, a former team captain now retired, has been very public about how the organization needs to step up and create better revenue opportunities and financial support for the women’s team.

After winning gold in Tokyo, team stars Christine Sinclair and Steph Labbé took to CBC to talk about the need for national leagues and support for women’s soccer in Canada.

Although CANMNT called for “a fair structure” with the women’s team, the CANWNT players responded with their own letter to clarify some of their issues. It’s unclear if CANMNT consulted with the women’s team before releasing its statement, but the inclusion and recognition of the women’s team is important. Arguably, it’s not something Canadian soccer has seen before: the men’s team supporting the women so publicly.

CANWNT not only wants FIFA percentages to be equal to men’s, but also real salaries, benefits and social supports. They have also been public advocates for survivors of abuse at the hands of the federation. I broke this story in October 2021.

The United States Women’s National Team recently won a lawsuit that resulted in a historical contract negotiation. Key to that victory was Cindy Parlow Cone, a former USWNT player and current president of the United States Soccer Federation, and that may be the kind of leader Canada Soccer needs. Someone who understands the needs of the players and the culture around the teams. A leader who can communicate and who is intentional in his actions. Maybe the old boys in the boardroom aren’t what the elite teams that have propelled Canadian soccer onto the world stage in unprecedented ways need.

There are a few issues at play with the Canadian federation, among them a sour relationship with the sports media, whose job it is to ask questions and create some public accountability. I spoke with colleagues who attended a press conference after Sunday’s game was canceled. Canada Soccer President Nick Bontis was joined by Earl Cochrane, Deputy General Secretary. Bontis defended the CSB deal, but also abruptly cut off the press conference and did not take questions. This left many feeling that Canada Soccer is in over its head.

If leaders can’t rise to the occasion and champion and nurture good relationships with the players they represent – ​​some of whom are the best players in the world – then what good are they in soccer in Canada? If they can’t leverage the marketability of their teams to fund soccer in Canada, what good are they? The responsibility to amplify and support women’s football rests with the national association. It is his responsibility to ensure that matches are not canceled or that there are no protests.

Late Sunday night, Canada Soccer and the men’s players agreed on a temporary solution and the men’s team resumed training and will play their next game scheduled for Thursday against Curacao in British Columbia. But the fact that we are less than six months away from a World Cup appearance and witnessing bickering over avoidable issues does not boost confidence in the leaders.

Between the mistrust of men and the lack of action by the executive council, one wonders how effective they and their leadership are not only in keeping things running smoothly, but also in implementing a vision for the soccer in Canada.

If Soccer Canada gets along with the players, it’s one step forward after five steps back. He cannot function like this and maintain a respectful status and worthy reputation in the global game.

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