A planned pre-World Cup friendly soccer match between the Canada and Panama men’s national teams in Vancouver Sunday has been cancelled.
Canada Soccer confirmed the cancellation with less than two hours before kickoff.
A spokesperson for BC Pavco, which manages BC Place stadium, said tickets will be refunded, with more information to come from Ticketmaster.
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The cancellation was first reported by TSN sports journalist Rick Westhead, who shared a letter attributed to the men’s team addressed “Dear Canada.”
In the letter, the team apologized to fans and the Panama side, but said they were forced to act amid an ongoing dispute with Canada Soccer over player compensation, pay equity for the Women’s National Team and the organization’s broadcast and sponsorship dealings.
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Global News has not yet verified the letter.
Canada Soccer addressed the cancellation in a news conference late Sunday afternoon.
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“Canada Soccer is very disappointed (in) the men’s national team players’ decision to refuse to play today,” said President Nick Bontis. “We would like to firstly apologize to all of our Canada Soccer fans and re-affirm all our gratitude to you for your continued support. I am sorry that this game did not occur today.”
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In a statement on Twitter, the Panamanian Football Federation said it would train at BC Place before returning to Panama as originally scheduled Sunday night.
The cancellation has already drawn angry reactions on social media. Some fans expressed anger at Canada Soccer for letting the situation reach this point, while others took the players to task for refusing to play. Still others vented anger at having travelled great distances or booked hotels to attend the game.
The cancellation comes after a pair of planned training sessions in Vancouver were scrapped.
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Canada Soccer’s advanced teams set up equipment at the Vancouver Whitecaps’ training facility Friday afternoon, but packed up and left the field minutes before the session was set to begin.
A session planned for Saturday was also cancelled.
“Canada Soccer are currently in discussions with their national team players pertaining to fair and equitable player compensation ahead of the FIFA World Cup period,” the association said in a statement late Saturday.
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A spokesperson for Canada Soccer said Saturday that discussions about player compensation are ongoing.
Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio spoke with The Canadian Press about the negotiations on the eve of the international break.
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“I think the players, what we ask for is fair,” he said. “We don’t want to be treated any more special than similar teams that we compare ourselves to. We just want to be respected and not taken advantage of and just given our fair share.”
Sunday’s game was the first of three scheduled for the 38th-ranked Canadians in the current international window.
The match against No. 61 Panama wasn’t initially on Canada’s schedule for this window, but was scheduled after Canada cancelled a friendly against Iran amid heated criticism.
— With files from the Canadian Press