Canada Soccer president resigns amid quarrel with national teams – The Globe and Mail
Nick Bontis resigned as president of the board of Canada Soccer on Monday amid calls for change from provincial and territorial federations, and as discontent continues to grow among the women’s and men’s national teams over a long-running labour dispute.
His sudden departure comes two weeks after the women’s national team threatened to boycott a high-profile tournament over what they described as biased treatment by Canada Soccer, and deep budget cuts to training programs in the run-up to this summer’s Women’s World Cup.
Under Mr. Bontis’s watch, a series of embarrassing incidents had marred the sport at a moment that it has captured the country’s imagination, after the women won gold at the Olympics in 2021 and the men conquered their continental division on the way to qualifying for the FIFA World Cup last November.
Players are wondering why Canada Soccer is crying poor after the organization signed a series of splashy sponsorships and the men won about $10-million in prize money for qualifying.
And the standing committee on Canadian heritage has summoned both Mr. Bontis and Earl Cochrane, the organization’s CEO, to appear during hearings it is convening next month to probe Canada Soccer’s governance and finances. Members of the women’s team have also been invited to appear.
On Monday evening, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said on Twitter that it was still important for Mr. Bontis to appear before the committee. Mr. Housefather also signalled that he would like to see the details of a deal between Canada Soccer and a private company known as Canadian Soccer Business that players have blamed for the sports organization’s troubled finances.
The heritage committee spent much of the latter half of 2022 examining Hockey Canada over its handling of sexual assault allegations, leading to resignations at the top of that sport organization.
The Canadian women’s soccer team labour dispute, explained
Last June, the national men’s team refused to play a match against Panama, saying they were upset over the state of negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement and issuing a series of demands that included an equal sharing of prize money between the men’s and women’s teams.
Canada Soccer agreed with the demand for equitable treatment and said it was working toward a single collective bargaining agreement that would cover both teams, but the players were frustrated by the slow progress. The women blasted Canada Soccer’s leadership for cutting budgets just as their World Cup preparations were moving into high gear, noting angrily that the organization had lavished the men with all the support they had required for their run.
The dispute became an international embarrassment for the organization, highlighted by an unusual moment of solidarity between the Canadian women and their American opponents prior to the kickoff of the first game of the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando, when the two sides stood shoulder to shoulder in a circle at the midfield line.
In a statement announcing his resignation, Mr. Bontis said that while he has “been one of the biggest proponents of equalizing the competitive performance environment for our Women’s National Team, I will unfortunately not be leading this organization when it happens. I acknowledge that this moment requires change.”
Earlier Monday, TSN reported that the 13 presidents of Canada’s provincial and territorial soccer federations had sent a letter to Mr. Bontis saying they had lost confidence in his leadership, and requesting his resignation.
Canada Soccer has lurched through a series of crises over the past year. Early this month, a news report suggested that John Herdman, the popular coach who had guided the women to Olympic bronze in 2012 and forged the men’s team into a victorious band of brothers, would be leaving to take over the New Zealand men’s team.
Canada Soccer and Mr. Herdman denied the report, but observers suggested the coach’s representatives might have been entertaining offers because of budget strains at the organization. (Mr. Herdman has not yet given an interview on the matter.)
After qualifying for the World Cup last March, the men began negotiations with Canada Soccer over how much of the prize money they would be able to keep for themselves. But Mr. Bontis said if the organization paid the men what they were demanding, there would be no money left over for other programs. And Ryan Fequet, a former board member, told The Globe that Canada Soccer had drawn millions of dollars from its reserve fund to pay for increased costs for the men’s qualifying run, and it hoped that investment could be repaid by prize money, to support other teams.
The players demanded Canada Soccer open its books and reveal the details of the deal with Canadian Soccer Business. In an open letter, the men alleged the deal had “hand cuffed” the organization, preventing it from capitalizing on soccer’s new popularity.
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The deal gives CSB the rights to all new corporate partnerships, such as with CIBC and Gatorade, which Canada Soccer signed last year, as well as the broadcast rights to the men’s and women’s national team games (except for those that occur under the auspices of FIFA, such as World Cup matches). It does not include prize money or jersey sales.
According to the contract, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, CSB pays Canada Soccer a guaranteed annual fee, beginning with a $3-million payment in 2019 and escalating each year, topping out at $3.7-million in 2027. CSB has a one-way option to renew the contract for an additional 10 years, which players and others have criticized.
But while some reports have suggested the sponsorships may be worth tens of millions of dollars, the president of Canadian Soccer Business told The Globe those stories are “grossly exaggerated and irresponsible,” and that the company is still losing money on its payments to Canada Soccer.
“The multimillion-dollar guarantee that we make to Canada Soccer, we are not making money on today,” said Mark Noonan, in a recent interview. “We took a risk when nobody was there. We were investing in the hope and belief that the property was going to become more valuable. And we are still recovering from that initial investment.”
With a report from Rachel Brady
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Need to Know: Bruins vs. Senators
BOSTON – The Bruins will be back on home ice on Tuesday night as they return from a lengthy five-game road trip to host the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden. Boston has bounced back to win three straight after a brief lull in its record-breaking season produced a stretch of three losses in four games.
“Hold ourselves accountable,” Matt Grzelcyk said of how the Bruins have rebounded quickly from the downturn. “And I feel like that Winnipeg game, we got a huge goal second shift, I think that just kind of starts getting things going the right way – and having that more attacking mentality offensively, defensively, taking time and space away from them. And I think it was a good transition and that’s when we could kind of overwhelm teams.”
Here’s everything else you need to know ahead of the 7 p.m. ET puck drop on NESN and 98.5 The Sports Hub:
On the Injury Front
Derek Forbort did not take part in the morning skate and is unlikely to play again before the postseason, per coach Jim Montgomery. The blue liner suffered a lower-body injury after blocking a shot on March 16 in Winnipeg.
“We do not expect him back before the end of the regular season,” said Montgomery, who added that Forbort does not require surgery.
Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno, both of whom have been out for nearly a month with lower-body injuries of their own, have resumed skating. Foligno took the ice on his own ahead of Tuesday’s morning skate, while Hall joined his teammates donning a maroon non-contact jersey.
“They’re checking boxes and are progressing well, but there’s no timeline for them yet,” said Montgomery. “I still think they are a ways away. It’s not at the point where I’m starting to think about lines and stuff.”
When they do return, however, Montgomery is eager to have plenty of options up front.
“I don’t think it’s a problem. It’s a great situation,” he said. “You’ll get to see when they get back who plays with who, and a deep lineup is going to get even deeper. So, it’s a great problem to have.”
After sitting out Sunday’s game in Buffalo, David Krejci (soreness) and Dmitry Orlov (defense rotation) will be back in the lineup. A.J. Greer and Jakub Zboril will be the healthy scratches.
The Senators, on the second end of a back-to-back, snapped a five-game losing streak on Monday night with a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh. The recent downturn has pushed Ottawa (34-31-5, 73 points) six points behind Florida for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
After winning the first two games against the Bruins this season – both on home ice – the Senators fell to Boston, 3-1, on Feb. 20 at TD Garden.
“I think they won [on Monday night], so they’re probably feeling pretty good about themselves,” said Grzelcyk. “Every game probably feels pretty close to a playoff game and they haven’t been there in a few years. They’ve got a lot to prove and they’ve got a lot of young talent…a good power play.
“We’ve got to stay disciplined, something we’ve lacked in a little bit recently. I’ve got to be mindful of that and I don’t want to give them any easy opportunities. And they played last night, so get on them early and make them work for it.”
Ottawa is paced by Tim Stutzle, who leads the club with 35 goals and 78 points in 66 games. Brady Tkachuk (30-42-72) has also hit the 30-goal, 70-point plateau, while Claude Giroux (28-30-68), Alex DeBrincat (21-35-56), and Drake Batherson (21-34-55) have reached the 20-goal mark.
Tuesday’s Projected Lineup
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Jake DeBrusk
Pavel Zacha – David Krejci – David Pastrnak
Tyler Bertuzzi – Charlie Coyle – Trent Frederic
Jakub Lauko – Tomas Nosek – Garnet Hathaway
Matt Grzelcyk – Charlie McAvoy
Hampus Lindholm – Brandon Carlo
Dmitry Orlov – Connor Clifton
Linus Ullmark/Jeremy Swayman
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