There is still no deal in place between the Canada men’s national soccer team and Canada Soccer but the team has returned to the field at UBC after skipping two training sessions and refusing to play a friendly match with Panama over the weekend.
The players announced the game would be cancelled just hours before kickoff as fans were already arriving outside the stadium.
“We want to work together with our organization, but the relationship has been strained for years,” the players said in an open letter released Sunday. “And now, Canada Soccer has disrespected our team and jeopardized our efforts to raise the standards and effectively advance the game in Canada.”
At issue: compensation for the players after the team qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.
The players want a bigger cut of World Cup prize money, a friends and family travel package for their loved ones to attend World Cup games in Qatar, and equal pay structure for both the men’s and women’s national teams going forward.
“I cannot accept an offer that will put our organization in a financial position that is untenable,” Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis said in a hastily arranged news conference after the game was cancelled. “And what I need to do is explain to the players, which we have, what our financial position is and how we can move forward.”
According to TSN’s Rick Westhead, Bontis took part in a negotiation session with the players at a Vancouver hotel Sunday evening before travelling to Toronto early Monday morning.
Canada Soccer released a statement Monday afternoon saying future meetings have been scheduled so the two sides can reach a resolution.
The players also released a short statement saying they would resume training as negotiations continue.
They said their questions were not answered during Sunday evening’s meeting and no actions have been taken to break the stalemate.
As the two sides dig in with just five months to go before Canada’s opening match in Qatar, it is the fans, who hoped to see their favourite players in person at BC Place, who are caught in the middle.
“It’s just basically a clown job on all angles, right?” said Arjen Rai, who showed up outside the stadium Sunday only to learn the match had been cancelled. “It should be handled much better than it is right now. Because it’s going to sour the casual fan and it’s going to ruin it for the World Cup.”
The Canadian players are scattered in professional leagues around the world and will have very few opportunities to train and play games as a unit before the tournament.
On Sunday, Bontis lamented the lost practice time because of the two training sessions skipped by the players, saying they only have 14 practices left now.
“The window’s closing in terms of their time together and how essential it is to maximize that time together on the pitch,” said former women’s team player Amy Walsh.
She said she was not surprised to learn of the deadlock in negotiations which have been underway since March.
“I think it was drawn out, which the CSA is notorious for,” Walsh said. “I’ve dealt with them in the past as part of the leadership group with the Women’s National Team for a decade. It’s part of their tactics.”
As the dispute carries on, the focus is in the boardroom instead of on the field where it belongs.
In the meantime, Canada’s opponents in the opening round of the tournament continue their preparation unabated.
Croatia, one of those teams, played powerhouse France to a 1-1 draw Monday – and did not look out of place in a very intense match.
Canada’s next game is scheduled for Thursday at BC Place against Curacao.
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