Canadian soccer squabble an embarrassment for all involved

The players agreed to get back on the practice field Monday in Vancouver after boycotting two training sessions and refused to play an exhibition game against Panama at BC Place on Sunday

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The Canadian men’s national soccer team should be focused on playing at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, but instead, have been sidetracked in a contract dispute with Canada Soccer.

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The players agreed to get back on the practice field Monday in Vancouver, after boycotting two training sessions and refused to play an exhibition game against Panama at BC Place on Sunday.

Canada is scheduled to host Curacao at BC Place on Thursday in the first of two Concacaf Nations League games. They are scheduled to travel to face Honduras on June 13.

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Canada Soccer put out a brief statement Monday afternoon, which did not shed much light on the state of negotiations between the sides.

“Canada Soccer senior leaders and the Men’s National Team players met on Sunday night to continue the negotiation process. The players will train this afternoon with future meetings scheduled towards a resolution.”

The entire episode had been an embarrassment for everyone involved with Canada Soccer and the men’s national team.

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The dispute stems on the distribution of bonus money given to Canada Soccer for qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar. The players put out a statement prior to the scheduled game against Panama outlining their concerns with Canada Soccer, and explaining why they decided to boycott the game.

Among their requests were:

• Transparency and a review of the Canadian Soccer Business Agreement.

• A leadership team that can optimize this moment and generate revenue from corporate sponsorship that should be used to drive the game forward at all levels for years to come (grassroots, youth, para & senior programs).

• An structure with the women’s national team that shares the same player match fees, percentage of prize money earned at respective FIFA World Cups and the development of a women’s domestic league.

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• World cup compensation that includes 40% of prize money and a comprehensive friends and family package for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

• More former players from the men’s, women’s and para team integrated into leadership positions within Canada Soccer Board & Organization

As a response to the letter, Canada Soccer president Dr. Nick Bontis and acting general secretary Earl Cochrane held a brief media availability on Sunday.

“Canada Soccer is committed to the principles of fairness and equity and we believe we presented a fair offer to the players,” Bontis said. “We benchmarked our offer against other national teams around the world.

“On the issue of gender equity raised in the players’ letter, Canada Soccer’s offer is also committed to provide the exact same terms to our women’s national team. As we move forward, Canada Soccer strategic commitment is to support all of our programs from grassroots right to the elite first teams.”

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Canada had not qualified for men’s World Cup since its only previous appearance in 1986 in Mexico, where they lost all three games and failed to score a goal.

This year, Canada had to take a long and arduous journey to qualify for Qatar.

It included getting through two preliminary rounds before taking part in the final eight-team qualifying group, which Canada surprisingly topped, ahead of Mexico and the United States, earning one of three automatic berths in the World Cup for the region.

Canada cliched a spot in Qatar with an impressive 4-0 win against Jamaica at BMO Field in Toronto in March.

They were then drawn into Group F for the 32-team tournament with Belgium, Croatia and Morocco. Canada will play Belgium on Nov. 23 at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan, Croatia on Nov. 27 at the Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan and Morocco on Dec. 1 at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha.

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Negotiations on how to divide up the prize money should have started back then, and an agreement should have been reached by this point.

“What I need to do is explain to the players — which we have — what our financial position is and how we can move forward so that we can incentivize them, so that we can motivate them, and more important to reward them,” Bontis said. “I want them to go to Qatar knowing that if they win those matches, they will be rewarded, because that’s what feels right and that’s the right thing to do.

“But the other right thing to do is to make sure whatever we pay the men, we pay the women, that’s the right thing to do.”

The women’s national team also put out a statement on Monday in response to the dispute, saying it had, “been bargaining in good faith with Canada Soccer since January 29, 2022.”

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The statement also said the women’s team, “does not view equal FIFA percentages as between our respective teams as equal pay.”

Hopefully, the sides can come to an agreement and head coach John Herdman can go about preparing his team to face Belgium (one of the top-ranked teams in the world), Croatia (a 2018 FIFA World Cup finalist) and Morocco (traditionally one) of the best sides in Africa) at the World Cup, or it could be a short stay in Qatar.

The wage dispute compounds the fiasco where Canada Soccer had to cancel an invite to Iran due to backlash in light of the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 with a surface-to-air missile shortly after takeoff from Tehran en route to Kyiv on Jan . 8, 2020. A total of 55 Canadians and 30 permanent residents were among 176 people killed in the incident.

“We’re all disappointed,” Bontis said. “I am as a fan; I am as a representative of this organization; Earl is as a representative of the staff of the organization. The technical staff, the coaching staff and so are the players too.

“We will do everything in our power to make sure the Curacao game and the Honduras game move forward.”

Email: dvandist@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

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