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What’s the deal with the Canadian men’s soccer team?


Photo by Beau Chevalier
My Twitter feed is going bonkers with news about the Canadian men’s soccer team. What’s gives?

It all started earlier this year. In March, the Canadian men’s soccer team secured a spot at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after defeating Jamaica 4-0 at BMO Field. It was a big deal. The men’s squad, often overmatched in international play, hadn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1986. Suddenly, everyone was getting excited about men’s soccer. Pundits hoped this would usher in a new, exciting era for the program, and even non-soccer fans were getting familiar with our star player, Alphonso Davies. Things were looking up.

Got it. We qualified for the big soccer tournament and everyone was happy. Where did it all go wrong?

Well, fast-forward to June, when the team started making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Basically, the players are in a labour dispute with the Canadian Soccer Association (a,k.a. Canada Soccer), the sport’s national governing body. The players were offered a 10 per cent cut of the World Cup prize money, but they would like 40 per cent, plus a few other things, so they refused to play in an exhibition match against Panama in Vancouver over the weekend. 

Did the players explain why?

They released a statement explaining their decision to sit out. Basically, they thought that qualifying for the World Cup would create financial opportunities for everyone (i.e. make all of them rich), and they feel that the contract proposal they received from Canada Soccer is extremely unfavourable. So they’re going on strike until they can renegotiate. 

So what do the players want?

They want the aforementioned 40 per cent cut of the World Cup prize money, plus game tickets, travel and accommodations for their loved ones at the tournament. They want the association to hire smarter people who make better decisions so they can make more money; they want more former players in leadership positions with Canada Soccer; and they want an equitable pay structure with the women’s national team. 

Got it. Anything else?

Yep. Back in 2019, Canada Soccer signed a 10-year deal with an organization called Canada Soccer Business. As part of the agreement, Canada Soccer received a baseline revenue of $3 million a year, while CSB handled and profited from sponsorship deals and broadcast revenues. In modern day sports, sponsorship deals and broadcast rights are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s unclear how much CSB is making off those rights, so the players also want to disclose and amend the terms of the agreement. Who signed the deal? Was anyone advocating on their behalf? The players believe the deal is significantly limiting the growth of the sport in Canada, and they want answers.

Courtesy of Canada Soccer
How did Canada Soccer respond?

The president of Canada Soccer, Nick Bontis, said the proposal is not “financially viable.” Does he have a point? Well, for comparison, the American soccer team (which Canada beat en route to qualification) will be giving its men’s players 45 per cent of the World Cup prize money. So Canada’s demands don’t seem unreasonable. 

Tell me, please. What’s the bottom line here?

It’s all about the money. The Canadian team reportedly made $10 million by qualifying for the World Cup. And if they win the tournament—light a candle, say a prayer—they’ll take home an estimated $42 million of FIFA’s $440 million in prize money. Obviously, the players want to get the biggest possible cut of that. Here’s something else to consider: the prize money will be split among 33 players. 

Yikes. That really shrinks the cut.

Exactly. That’s why the players want 40 per cent, not the 10 per cent initially proposed. They’ve got bills to pay and families to feed. But Canada Soccer has expenses, too, namely: a new training centre, youth programs and administrative expenses (i.e. the salaries of Bontis and Co.), to name just a few. Neither side is willing to budge.

So why is this all happening now?

The World Cup in Qatar, which kicks off on November 21, is less than six months away. The players just gave up a valuable chance to compete together before their most important tournament in more than 30 years. And fans in Vancouver were left stranded outside the stadium, wondering what the hell happened. Apparently, these contract discussions started in March, but Canada Soccer waited until early June to present their offer. That’s something the players took issue with, too.

Who does the public seem to be supporting?

This is really bad PR for Canada Soccer. They look like the grumpy administrative overlords, unwilling to provide their workers with fair pay, depriving fans in the process, compromising Canada’s chances of competing in the World Cup. (Bontis literally got down on his knees and begged some of the players to take the deal, according to the Star.)

Anything else I should know?

Another incident likely contributed to the players’ decision to hold out. Canada was originally supposed to play Iran, not Panama, over the weekend. Canada Soccer offered to pay the Iranians $400,000 and scheduled the scrimmage on short notice. Then pretty much everyone realized it was ridiculous to play footy with Iran just a few years after Iranian forces shot down an aircraft carrying 176 innocent passengers, 63 of whom were Canadian. Even Justin Trudeau said it “wasn’t a very good idea” to organize the match. So the game was cancelled, and now, get this, the Iranians are suing Canada Soccer for $10 million in damages.

So what happens next?

On the bright side, the Canadians will compete in an exhibition match against Curaçao on Thursday, but they have yet to reach an agreement with Canada Soccer. Hopefully, when the team takes the pitch in Qatar in the fall, this whole debacle will be a small footnote in a bigger story of success for the Canadian men’s soccer team. Or maybe the fallout is just beginning. 





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