Explaining Canada players’ protest over World Cup compensation

A disastrous few weeks for Canada Soccer continued on Sunday, mere hours before the Canadian men’s national team’s rescheduled friendly against Panama kicked off at BC Place in Vancouver.

That friendly was canceled less than two hours before the game's scheduled start time amid a player protest regarding World Cup compensation.

The protest began with players skipping Friday afternoon’s scheduled training session and media availability. Players didn’t attend Saturday’s practice, either, and have chosen to not play in Sunday’s friendly as talks continue.

The players and federation met on Saturday night following the publicized release of the protest. Both parties remained at a standstill after a “transparent” conversation between the two sides, although the players haven’t yet sent a counter offer to Canada Soccer.

Canadian players released a letter via TSN’s Rick Westhead calling for greater transparency about Canada Soccer’s broadcast rights deal which has ‘handcuffed’ the association, leaders who can create more sponsorship revenue and equal pay for the women’s and men’s players with the formation of a women’s domestic league along with 40 percent of the World Cup windfalls.

Canada Soccer is expected to receive at least $10 million, potentially as much as $15 million, from FIFA for its World Cup participation. Typically, federations will pay bonuses to their national teams from this pool of money.

Negotiations between the players and federation began following Canada’s qualification to the World Cup on March 27, but they hadn’t spoken in the same room until this window.

In response to the canceled friendly and ongoing public dispute, Canada Soccer called a press conference with president Nick Bontis and acting secretary general Earl Cochrane at BC Place on Sunday afternoon.

The tone of that media availability was tense, to say the least. Bontis labeled the players’ proposal as “untenable,” even if the association only had the men’s and women’s teams under their umbrella.

“We would like to have a fact-based discussion within the fiscal reality that Canada Soccer has to live with every day,” said Bontis. “Canada Soccer is committed to the principles of fairness and equity and we believe we presented a fair offer to the players. We benchmarked our offer against other national teams from around the world. On the issue of gender equity raised in the players' letter, Canada Soccer's offer also committed to provide the exact same terms to our women's national team. As we move forward, Canada Soccer's strategic commitment is to support all of our programs, from grassroots, right through to the elite first teams."

Canadian Soccer Business, which oversees the commercial assets and inventory for marquee soccer properties in Canada, was listed by name in the players’ letter as it seeks more transparency behind the relationship between CSB and Canada Soccer. CEO Scott Mitchell stated that CSB has “invested tens of millions of dollars” to benefit Canadian soccer and has produced an “unprecedented amount of revenue to Canada Soccer in the past 18 months.

Cochrane and Bontis didn’t directly address the nature of the relationship between Canada Soccer and CSB, but praised the organization’s efforts since its formation in 2018.

"Canada Soccer's relationship with Canada Soccer Business has been pivotal in building soccer and growing the game in this country,” said Bontis. “Canada Soccer Business was pivotal for the 2020 Canadian Championship final\] last night that [Toronto FC played with Forge, pivotal for the investment for our alumni national-team players who now come back to invest their own money in concert with the CSB to build the Canadian Premier League. They have invested substantial funds and support to promote soccer in this country at a critical time for its growth. In partnership together, we have built a men's professional league in this country, creating a domestic pathway for soccer talent across Canada."

How this impacts the future of Canadian soccer remains in the big picture. The outlook was as positive as ever but now appears ominous, with confidence in leadership dwindling by the day. Bontis admitted that with former secretary general Peter Montopoli and deputy secretary general Joe Guest stepping down at the end of 2021, the federation is still undergoing a change in leadership.

But that won’t quell the uprising among Canadian fans, especially with preparation for the World Cup drifting away. This is the second-to-last window of matches Canada can play before traveling to Qatar, so every lost game is a wasted opportunity to tune-up for the big dance in November.

Canada are set to face Curacao in their Nations League opener at BC Place on Thursday before battling Honduras in San Pedro Sula on June 13. The home match remains in limbo as the players and association continue to work on a deal.

Should that game not be played either, that will be a Concacaf issue to address under the auspices of FIFA.