Image via The Canadian Press
As the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar grows closer, one might be inclined to believe that the period of preparation for the quadrennial spectacle in which all participating nations currently find themselves is one marked only by excitement for the tournament’s newest competitor. After finishing in first place in the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Final Qualifying Round, the Canadian Men’s Soccer Team booked their ticket to the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Supporters of Les Rouges share an unprecedented sense of encouragement for the future of the men’s program - primarily due to the dynamic tactical identity of manager John Herdman and the burgeoning rise of Canadian talent. Such talent is headlined by the likes of Stephen Eustaquio, Jonathan David, and Alphonso Davies, the recently crowned CONCACAF Player of the Year. Nevertheless, recent events arising out of an ongoing dispute between the men’s national program and the Canadian soccer federation have demonstrated that this period of preparation has, in actuality, been anything but exciting.
On June 5, the friendly match between Canada and Panama was canceled two hours before kick-off as a result of the Canadian players’ refusal to take the field amidst a dispute in contract negotiations with Canada Soccer. In light of the historic collective bargaining agreements agreed upon by the United States Soccer Federation, the Canadian men have lambasted the efforts of Canada Soccer throughout the negotiation process. The primary complaint held by the players toward Canada Soccer was the lack of financial opportunities and respect for the men’s and women’s programs proportional to the level of success attained by both teams over the last year. Additionally, the players held reservations about the lack of transparency displayed by the federation in failing to disclose the terms of the 10-year agreement they signed in 2019 with Canadian Soccer Business (CSB). CSB is an independent entity that was established to oversee Canada Soccer’s commercial rights and corporate partnerships, and, as a consequence of the partnership deal, is only entitled to allocate to Canada Soccer an annual revenue of $3 million. Anything else that may follow is kept by CSB rather than being allocated to the players.
In response to this unproductive series of negotiations, the men’s national team released a letter publicizing their displeasure with the federation and outlining their expectations moving forward. These expectations demonstrated a desire from the players for multiple structural changes within the federation, including but not limited to:
Transparency across the federation and the opportunity for players to review the agreement between Canada Soccer and CSB.
An equitable pay structure with the women’s national team which shares player match fees and the percentage of prize money earned by both teams at their respective World Cups.
World Cup compensation includes 40% of the prize money earned and an additional friends and family package for the 2022 World Cup.
Ironically, Panama was only asked to play the game by the Canadian federation after they were compelled to cancel the previously scheduled match against fellow World Cup participants Iran in light of tense relations between the two nations in recent weeks. Nevertheless, the Canadian players’ refusal to take the field served as a public demonstration of their intent to demand financial return from Canada Soccer proportional to their recent success.
Ultimately, the abandonment of on-field action was short-lived, as the players defeated Curacao 4-0 in their opening match of the CONCACAF Nations League after committing to work toward a future resolution with the federation. Nevertheless, the lack of training time and matches played took its toll, as the Canadians suffered a 2-1 Nations League defeat to Honduras – the last place finisher in the CONCACAF Final Qualifying Round, four days later. Feeling aggrieved at the manner of their defeat, the Canadian players exhibited their displeasure toward the match officials – a move that could be described as the culmination of a frustrating international window.
Over the last year, the performances of the Canadian men’s national team have indicated that they are ready to represent their nation proudly at the World Cup. However, the events of the past few weeks - stemming from the players’ desire for compensation equal to the service they’ve provided – have put a halt on Canada’s otherwise linear trajectory toward Qatar. If a resolution between the involved parties is not found, it may hold an adverse effect on the team’s greater desire to prove they belong on the world’s biggest stage.
Bryce is a former men's soccer player for Anderson University. He currently attends Regent University School of Law. He can be found on Twitter @BryceGoodwyn.