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Canada Soccer officials defend controversial deal with Canadian Soccer Business

Canada Soccer defended its controversial deal with Canadian Soccer Business on Monday under questioning on Parliament Hill by the Heritage Committee.
Earl Cochrane attends a Canada Soccer event in Winnipeg in a May 7, 2022 handout photo. Cochrane appears Monday before the Heritage Committee as the parliamentary body continues its investigation into the labour dispute involving the men's and women's national teams. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canada Soccer-David Lipnowski **MANDATORY CREDIT**

Canada Soccer defended its controversial deal with Canadian Soccer Business on Monday under questioning on Parliament Hill by the Heritage Committee.

But Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane said talks were underway to "modernize" the agreement.

Canada Soccer board member Paul-Claude Berube said the governing body, back in 2017 when negotiations with the CSB started, was "spending hand over fist" to the tune of $1 million a year just to broadcast national team games.

"We needed income to ensure we that could continue developing soccer across Canada," Berube told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. "And this was one of the approaches that was approved by the board of directors." 

The agreement, which allows the CSB to oversee and retain funds from marketing and broadcasting rights in exchange for an annual payment to Canada Soccer, has come under fire. Critics say terms of the deal do not reflect or reward the recent success of both national teams.

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh said the CSB deal has "absolutely handcuffed" Canada Soccer.

Berube, who said the agreement was unanimously approved by the board, said Canada Soccer receives $3 million a year under the CSB deal.

Money from the broadcasting and sponsorship right has also gone to help fund the men's Canadian Premier League.

Cochrane said efforts are underway to rework the CSB deal, acknowledging that "today the unilateral term option and limited ability for us to share in upside revenue are drawbacks of the agreement."

"But we hope to resolve those issues shortly," he said.

Cochrane passed on most of the CSB questions to Berube who, unlike Cochrane, was part of the board when the agreement was struck.

Cochrane also acknowledged that the governing body had erred in cuts this year to the women's team program.

"Recently Canada Soccer made some funding decisions for the operations of the women's team that it thought would have minimal impact. We were wrong," he said. "Those decisions were made with good intentions of controlling spending. But we should not have made those decisions that negatively impacted the women's team."

Cochrane said Canada Soccer was in talks with the women's team technical staff to give them what they need ahead of this summer's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Canada Soccer was also represented Monday by board director Stephanie J. Geosits. All three officials appeared via video conference.

Former Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis was invited to appear but was unable to attend.

"Everybody around this table wanted Mr. Bontis," said Waugh.

The committee moved to require Bontis, Canada Soccer chief financial officer Sean Heffernan and CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, a Vancouver native who is a former president of Canada Soccer, to appear before a future hearing.

Bontis resigned last month after provincial and territorial governing bodies, in a letter, asked him to step down.

Committee questioning ranged from the exact date the CSB deal had been approved by the Canada Soccer board to whether the governing body was dealing with any sexual misconduct allegations (none presently, according to Cochrane) and whether it had a "slush fund" like Hockey Canada ("absolutely no slush fund," said Cochrane).

Cochrane repeated that Canada Soccer's offer to the national teams involved equal match fees and splitting competition prize money between them.

"Simply put, national team players, regardless of their gender identity, will be paid the same amount for their work in representing our country." Cochrane said. 

He said the proposed deal would make the Canadian women the second-highest-paid team in the world, behind only the U.S.

Cochrane also revealed that Canada may be getting more games to host at the 2026 World Cup given the recent match schedule expansion of the 48-team tournament that is being co-hosted by Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

The initial plan was to have Canada host 10 of the 80 matches. Now with the total number of matches up to 104, Cochrane said Canada could host as many as 15 matches.

"it is unknown what (financially) Canada Soccer will receive from those games," Cochrane added.

Monday's hearing came 11 days after testimony by captain Christine Sinclair and teammates Janine Beckie, Sophie Schmidt and Quinn, who goes by one name.

The players, who have made a combined 732 appearances for Canada at the senior level, told the parliamentary committee that the Canadian women's team has essentially been treated as an afterthought compared to the men's side.

Sinclair, the world's all-time international leading goal-scorer among men and women with 190 goals, painted a picture of an obdurate governing body unwilling to share financial information — and favouring its men's team.

Cochrane was named general secretary last July after serving as acting general secretary since January 2022 after Peter Montopoli stepped down to become chief operating officer for Canada FIFA World Cup 2026.

Cochrane has had a variety of roles with the governing body over two stints dating back to 2001.

As general secretary, Cochrane is the "operational leader of Canada Soccer" working with the president — an elected position — and the board of directors. Charmaine Crooks has been elevated to acting president from vice-president pending elections in May.

The sixth-ranked women's team, which formed the Canadian Soccer Players' Association in 2016, has been without a labour deal since the last one expired at the end of 2021. They have struck an agreement in principle with Canada Soccer on compensation for 2022 but say other issues have yet to be resolved.

The 53rd-ranked men, who organized last summer as the Canada Men’s National Soccer Team Players Association, are working on their first formal labour agreement.

Both teams have resorted to job action over their dissatisfaction at the labour impasse.

The men boycotted a planned friendly against Panama last June in Vancouver. And the women's team briefly downed tools before last month's SheBelieves Cup before being forced back onto the pitch by threats of legal action from Canada Soccer.

The Heritage Committee has already taken Hockey Canada to task as part of it Safe Sport in Canada research.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter


This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2023.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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