Look, this was never my plan. I love firing barbs at rival team’s fanbases and reporting on Forge FC with great bias whilst writing the occasional CanPL travelogue. But as a writer and fan of soccer in Canada, I’ve grown to care more and more about women’s soccer, or WoSo for short. And it is impossible to write about women’s soccer here without pulling out tufts of your luxurious salt-and-pepper Afro (that point might be this writer specific).
I have written about the CanWNT/XNT and their dealings with Canada Soccer, labour-wise. I have written about the need for a professional women’s soccer league. I have written about Canadian women’s successes as players, coaches and executives. We have so much talent. So why do we have so much difficulty getting women the respect and service they deserve?
Well, listening to the Parliamentary Standing Committee peel back the layers of the onion has been enlightening. And much like that onion, it’s enough to bring you to tears.
The heroes of the session I listened to have to be Anthony Housefather, whose questions were pointed and direct. The limitations of the format didn’t always allow the follow-ups I’d have liked, but for the most part he got his questions in. And he asked questions based on actual research, and backed up by documented fact. Not something that every MP on committee did. He even pulled out evidence!
On the Canada Soccer side the champion was Canada Soccer CFO – Sean Heffernan. He was dry, but to the point and surprisingly candid. His introduction clearly laid out his role, and he made it easy to understand the duties and limitations of his job. He puts together options and advises the board. He doesn’t sign anything. Something that was lost on several MPs.
Okay, so if you are not one of the nerds who follow this stuff, I’ll give you my breakdown, and why I think it should matter to the larger Canadian Soccer community.
What Happened at the Committee?
Well, basically this is session number three. Members of the Canadian Women’s Soccer team spoke up at the first one. They garnered a lot of support, because their success has earned them a great deal of goodwill over the years. Canada Soccer decided to issue a press release the day of their testimony to try to undercut its value. And like most things Canada Soccer does it fanned the flames they were attempting to put out. In session two the big news was that Canada Soccer Secretary Earl Cochrane admitted that cutting the Women’s program’s funding before a World Cup (after spending a record amount on the men beforehand) was a mistake. D’uh.
So session three was an opportunity to speak to the big dawgs in Canada Soccer’s sphere of influence. The recently departed President, and long-time board member, Nick Bontis; Fifa VP, Concacaf President, international soccer power broker, and former CSA President, Victor Montagliani; and also present was the aforementioned hero from the Canada Soccer side, Sean Heffernan, Canada Soccer CFO.
First up Dr. Nick. He spent a fair bit of his opening detailing the upsetting events that made him unable to attend the first committee he was called to. Fair enough, that sounds like an awful situation. He spoke about what soccer has meant to shaping him as a person, as a player and executive. He also explained his role at Canada Soccer, taking credit for pay equity agreement and also apologized for his behaviour towards Christine Sinclair, kind of. He said “What matters is that she feels I treated her concerns disrespectfully.” Not completely true. The rest of Canada seeing how casually a star contributor can be reduced by a dude in a suit – a guy who dropped to his knees to hear male concerns – simply because she is a woman, is significant too in my view.
Next, Mr. Montagliani introduced himself and pointed out that under his watch 95% of Christine Sinclair’s goals, and 100% of Dwayne DeRosario’s goals, were seen by Canadian fans on TV. I think this was to show that TV was good for Canadian soccer in the before times, but was now not being picked up by the big stations because it was too expensive for Canada Soccer to keep doing it on their own. Of course, for casual soccer fans who don’t want to shell out for yet another streaming platform (the biggest sports/soccer fans are likely to have TSN/SN, DAZN,FuboTV, and now APPLE) may be missing some of this countries best talent. Also seems weird to highlight Ms. Sinclair in light of her recent treatment, unless you are throwing the new guard under the bus.
Sean Heffernan introduced himself as CFO. Stated he was here to talk about three issues:
- CSB negotiations
- Financial Statements
He said that the CSB deal was good because it guaranteed annual payments, secured new sponsors and investors for professional and grassroots soccer, and that provided new broadcast streaming opportunities. The last part is the part I struggle with the most. Former CPL commissioner David Clanachan pointed to the death of traditional broadcast mediums whenever he got a chance, and was also record as stating that the new streaming options that OneSoccer/Mediapro brought were the way of the future. This was echoed by stories like this one, as well as their press releases (how did the National Teams miss this?). As everyone and their uncle lines up to decry the duopoly of Sportsnet/TSN as the evil entities that prevent this small start up from being given its fair place in the marketplace, it seems to be forgotten that this was not the promised business plan. But I digress. Why dredge up old truths when expediency demands simple villains.
By the way, Mr. Heffernan did point out some of the shortcomings he’d identified. The renewal terms were one. A ten-year deal that the CSB can renew unilaterally, with only a slight increase in funding, to 20 years was not good. Of course, besides the length the funding model was another issue Heffernan spoke about. And finally, the limited ability to share in upside revenue was the final hitch.
This is what contradicts the popular narrative that the CSB deal was so necessary and the CSA was in no place to argue. The CSA has never run at a deficit. The 2015 Women’s World Cup gave them millions surplus in 2015 according to Peter Montopoli.
One of my issues with both Dr. Nick and Mr. Montagliani is that they were at pains to stress the amateur status of their roles on the Canada Soccer Board. While true, it is hardly the whole story. The Canada Soccer presidency/board is a launching pad for good paying jobs at FIFA, and in their sphere of influence. And anyone who has taken the time to watch a documentary or two about FIFA, knows that FIFA is hardly a place where executives have to worry about the cost of their next latte, or training session. For example, Montagliani became President of Concacaf and a FIFA VP. Anthony Housefather suggested his compensation may be in the seven-digits ($2 million/year). And his influence on the game in North America is massive. Bontis landed a desk job at Concacaf in the six-figures according to Housefather, and he was drummed out of his volunteer job (the new position pegged at $125,000/year, not bad for a part-time gig). And the aforementioned Peter Montopoli is the CEO of Canada World Cup 2026 a job that likely has some financial benefits. Both Montagliani and Bontis cited Concacaf policy or security for not being able to confirm their salaries.
The Road To Olympic Gold – FC13 Podcast
Moving on to some other key takeaways from the committee from my point of view. The Bloq Quebecois asked a question about the women’s right to play. Why a men’s pro league but no women’s? Bontis pointed out, rightfully, that the CSA sanctions leagues, it doesn’t create them. So that begs the question of why the CSA, which found so much of its financial largesse through women’s soccer and so much of its credibility through their victories, decided to turn over so much potential capital to the CSB with zero stipulation to create WoSo. It boggles the mind! Again, this was a bad deal even in 2018.
How about Victor Montagliani seeming to give the CSA credit for creating the playing field necessary for the creation of the new investors in WoSo, namely Project 8. This is what’s commonly known as brass balls. Imagine this dude saying basically, You’re welcome for getting investors interested in Women’s Soccer. Meanwhile sources tell me that women who met with both the CSA and CSB members report frustration in how little interest the boards seemed to take. And the person who got Project 8 started was a disgruntled former CanXNT player. I am not saying that CSB wasn’t interested in building WoSo in Canada, but women were definitely an afterthought. And though Mark Noonan has made it very clear that he sees WoSo not as charity that must be done, but a growing business opportunity that must be taken advantage of, there is precious little to show for it more than five years after talks about pro soccer started.
Heffernan was clear that their needs to be some re-negotiation done in regards to all the obvious shortcomings with the CSB deal. But he was forced to admit that there is no clause to renegotiate as far as he is aware.
And through the two people I credited with good showing, MP Housefather and CFO Heffernan, I learned that although Bontis said the deal was signed off at the CSA in March of 2018, there are no minutes of that meeting. But a later meeting in February of 2019, that Bontis said was about other unrelated housekeeping issues, has minutes that show the CSB deal was re-visited in light of all those outstanding issues the board seemed to have had. On top of that Housefather got Heffernan to confirm that the deal was not signed by the Secretary or an additional signatory as spelled out by the CSAs own by-laws. Yikes!
Major Underreported Event
While most news outlets seem to be reporting the fight between the CSA and the national teams and the CSA over the CSB deal (which gives the CSB all the sponsorship/marketing rights to CSB owners of the men’s CPL) a few bigger issues seem under reported to me.
Victor Montagliani was on the CSA Board when Bob Birarda was working with Canada Soccer training young women. Birarda has since been convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to two years. Montagliani seemed to promote the idea that they were only ever notified of inappropriate texts at the time. He suggested that the McLaren Report absolved them of any wrongdoing. But the McLaren Report makes almost 40 recommendations for improvement. Feel free to give the report a read. And the biggest and most glaring issues seem to be, from my point of view, that there was next to no oversight of the u-20 team and that the WNT was a type of single-stream feeder system. All players had to play for Whitecaps WT to realistically have a shot at the CanWNT. (Just ask Charmasine Hooper). Yet Birarda was a coach for both the Whitecaps and the Canada u-20 women’s team. Where would any young woman under Birarda complain? According to the McLaren Independent Canada Soccer Review as it is formally known, one former CSA Executive stated it would have been difficult to know who to complain to and another stated the, “…girls would surely not dare make a complaint.” Something that was shown to the light by the courageous Ciara McCormack. Read this if you’re one of the few who still hasn’t.
This is chilling, and when lined up with all the things that current players are dealing with, shows that a lot of courage is needed to stand up for what is right when your lifelong dreams are in the hands of a select few to abuse as they see fit.
I am not suggesting that Bontis, Montagliani or even Montopoli, who was General Secretary at the time, did anything nefarious. But the system they presided over didn’t protect women properly, and players today still feel disrespected by that system. So while some Board members have gone on to some of the highest offices in soccer governance, there are players that have seen their dreams collapse, or others who’ve made it, only to see their work reduced to a mere afterthought as the MNT finally made it back on the scene after 36 years of largely bupkis.
I mean I ask you gentle readers as humans how would you feel if your work carried Canada Soccer to surpluses, made a name on the world stage, and you as a player found out after the fact that the money and credibility you created was offered, in part, to help start a men’s pro soccer league, while you as a unionized member of the “company” – with a signed collective agreement – were never meaningfully consulted about that deal?
Brass balls, at Canada Soccer. Remember, Sophie Schmidt, one of our best and most reliable players over the years, was set to retire out of absolute frustration before a World Cup. How bad is that relationship?
So What Now?
Look, I know this got bleak, especially from me. But this is where we are at in Canada. I love the CPL, I am a gosh-darned super fan and have the crocheted outfits and digital ticket stubs to prove it. But if Bontis is stating that the CSA doesn’t create leagues, it sanctions them, then why is CSA marketing/sponsorship money going to a Men’s Pro League in amounts the stakeholders are denied knowledge of (again the women have had a CBA with the CSA since 2015). Especially since the CSA hasn’t been in the hole, and the CanXNT has done more than it’s share to keep it afloat?
Well, the first step is transparency. The CSA and CSB need to open the books to the National Teams’ respective associations. It is only a matter of time until the CPL’s Player Union, PFACan, gets to see them, in part anyway, as they bargain their first collective agreement, whenever that happens.
This could be a win for everyone. The CSB gets to show how big their love for the game is by showing the players how they’ve been growing it. The players can get some sense of relief when they see how they are not being rooked out of millions, but that a competent body is making never before realized advances in marketing in Canada, which will grow the sport long-term. And Canada Soccer can finally do what they should have been from the beginning, a bridge between the National Teams that have done so well for us all, and the new professional leagues that are going to incubate the talent of tomorrow better than Canada Soccer has alone so far. Of course, that has to mean a path to meaningful support for the women’s game.
Notice I didn’t see that we, the public need to know everything. Good faith negotiating can be done behind closed doors, but it has to be inclusive of all the parties involved. So we can all step back, once they come together.
And I know that Montagliani probably meant well when he pointed out that the CSA had subsidized women in the NWSL before the CSA supported the CPL’s beginnings. But helping get talented, world class players jobs in an American league, is a far cry from guaranteeing u-21 minutes to the next generation of men’s talent, while also bringing home other players who had fallen through the cracks. A CSA Board that was truly committed to equity and equality would have recognized how insulting it is to say that your reward for years of excellence, senior women, is akin to the assistance we are giving to men just starting out, most of whom have never pulled on the Maple Leaf. That’s shameful Vic. But the way forward doesn’t have to be.
When do the women get what they’ve earned? Let’s start with respect, move on to their demands for funding and then their league. There is no time to waste anymore.
I’ll quote Conservative MP Rachel Thomas in my conclusion, something a lefty like me doesn’t dare to often, but we need unity.
“I think the other thing that is being communicated to the public is that this is an organization being run by men for men.”
For women I’m sure the daily grind of sexism and misogyny is quite enough to deal with, without having to call it out all the time as well. So let’s do our part to right the ship men. We’re all better off when things are fair. Except for the jerks I guess, they lose. But we’re not the jerks…right?
Subscribe to 13th Man Sports to get email notifications when we post!