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Canada Soccer and the men’s national team seem to be at polar opposites in a contract dispute over the allocation of prize money for making it to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
It came to a head when players refused to take the field for an international friendly against Panama at BC Place in Vancouver on Sunday, forcing Canada Soccer to cancel the game less than two hours before kickoff.
“Canada Soccer is very disappointed in the men’s national team decision not to play today,” Canada Soccer president Dr. Nick Bontis said Sunday. “We would like to, firstly, apologize to all of our Canada soccer fans and reaffirm our gratitude to you and your continued support, and I’m sorry this game did not occur today.”
Bontis said Canada Soccer had been working with the players in good faith to find a fair and equitable agreement.
The players disagree, and just prior to the game being cancelled, put out a letter to Canadian soccer fans outlining their position, which emphasized a desire for transparency and a review of the agreement with Canada Soccer Business.
The players also asked for a leadership team that can optimized the success of both the men’s and women’s programs and generate more revenue, and are calling for a more equitable structure that shares in the same player match fees percentage earned at the teams’ respective World Cups.
The men’s team is looking for 40 per cent of the prize money and a comprehensive friends and family package for Qatar.
“We are ready to take a proposal from one side (players) and a proposal that we believe is fair; that is equitable with the women, that is at 30 per cent to the men in sharing World Cup prize money that we have benchmarked against nations around the world, that we believe is fair,” Bontis said. “I’m a fan of the players and what they’ve achieved for this country; we transcended sport in this country. I’m a fan of what the women did, and how they transcended sport in this country.
“Buy 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 been alive, but the next 100 years that we’re going to be alive. And I can’t accept an offer that will put our organization in a financial position that is untenable.”
Canada made it to the 2022 FIFA World Cup by finishing first in the final Concacaf qualifying group ahead of Mexico and the United States. It’s the first time Canada has qualified for men’s World Cup since its only previous appearance in Mexico in 1986, where they lost all three games and failed to score a goal.
The cancellation of the game against Panama is the latest saga for the men’s national team in the lead-up to the World Cup, taking place Nov. 21 to Dec. 18 in Qatar. Canada was drawn into Group F at the 32-team tournament with Belgium, Croatia and Morocco.
Canada Soccer had originally scheduled a friendly against Iran at BC Place this weekend, prior to a pair of Concacaf Nations League games against Curacao and in Honduras this upcoming week.
The game against Iran, which had sold out, however, had to be cancelled when Canada Soccer received intense backlash for hosting the Iranians in light of the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 shortly after takeoff from Tehran en route to Kyiv on Jan. 8, 2020.
According to the Canadian government, 55 Canadians and 30 permanent residents were among 176 people killed when the plane was shot down by two Iranian surface-to-air missiles.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among those who criticized Canada Soccer for scheduling the game.
“This was a choice by Soccer Canada,” Trudeau said in May. “I think it wasn’t a very good idea to invite the Iranian soccer team here to Canada, but that’s something the organizers are going to have to explain.”
Not playing Sunday hurts Canada heading towards the World Cup. With only two other international windows available prior to the tournament in Qatar, there will not be a lot of time for head coach John Herdman to get his team ready for the tournament.
“I’m sorry the game didn’t occur today, not just for the fans, but I’m sorry for the technical staff and the coaching staff,” Bontis said. “John Herdman, at the beginning of this window, had 16 training sessions with the national team between now and Qatar.
“That number went to 14 today and we cannot afford to lose these opportunities to have our men display the performance that we know they’re capable of when they go to Qatar.”
Bontis said the two sides will continue to negotiate face-to-face in Vancouver looking to hammer out a deal. Canada is scheduled to host Curacao on June 9 and travel to Honduras on June 13 in two Concacaf Nations League games.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure the Curacao game and the Honduras game move forward,” Bontis said. “And not only that, but he next window after that and the next window after that leading to Qatar.”