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Canada Soccer sponsors sent 'cease and desist' letters by men's national team players association

Canada's men's soccer team celebrates Canada's men's soccer team celebrates - The Canadian Press

The Canada Men’s National Soccer Team Players Association, which has failed for the past year to reach a collective labour agreement with Canada Soccer, said it is demanding that sponsors of the federation and the private company Canadian Soccer Business (CSB) stop using the names, images and likenesses of men’s national team players in their marketing and advertising.

“Instead of working toward a solution, given the current state of Canada Soccer, we have been taken to task for raising these concerns and told we have an inflated view of ourselves,” the players wrote in a statement provided to TSN on Tuesday. “Canada Soccer is now also attempting to capitalize on the pressure of the Women’s World Cup to force us into an inadequate deal.”

The men’s players’ association confirmed the timing of its statement was discussed with the women’s national team player representatives.

“CSB’s sponsors continue to profit from the unauthorized use of our names, images and likenesses, with most sponsorship funding not going to Canada Soccer or its national teams or development programs,” the men’s players’ association wrote. “Such sponsors do not have a right to associate themselves with the men’s national team players. To address this, and being left with no choice, cease and desist letters were sent to CSB sponsors, demanding that they stop such unauthorized use. We cannot stand idly and watch our federation – a non-profit organization – unable to fulfill its obligations as the governing body of our sport in Canada and brought to its knees financially by virtue of diversion of funds to for-profit entities, while the future of soccer in Canada suffers.”

The players’ association shared its perspective in the two-page statement on a labour impasse that has dragged on for more than a year and again condemned Canada Soccer’s controversial media and sponsorship agreement with CSB, which was signed in 2018 and will be in place through 2037 if CSB decides to extend an initial 10-year deal.

CSB pays Canada Soccer an annual fee of between $3-$4 million and in exchange, the private company, which is owned and controlled by Canadian Premier League (CPL) team owners, receives all of the revenue from the national teams' media rights and sponsorships with 15 companies, including Nike, CIBC, Gatorade, GE Appliances, and Visa. 

The contract, first publicly detailed by TSN in July 2022, has come under withering criticism during a series of Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage hearings in Ottawa over the past year.

Members of Parliament have repeatedly pressed Canada Soccer for answers about why the organization handed away such valuable rights for 20 years at a time, particularly after Canada had agreed in April 2017 to join the U.S. and Mexico in a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

Canada Soccer negotiated the CSB deal in late 2017 at a time when many in the media reported the U.S., Canada and Mexico were favourites to secure the World Cup ahead of a rival bid from Morocco. Winning the right to co-host the 2026 World Cup, which will be the largest ever with 104 matches, up from 64 during the 2022 event in Qatar, has significantly enhanced the value of Canada Soccer’s media and sponsorship rights.

Despite repeated public assurances from Canada Soccer officials that CSB had agreed to “modernize” their contract, it's unclear if tangible offers to retool the contract have been presented.

The men’s national team players also wrote in their statement that Canada Soccer has backed out of previous contract offers, including one made by former federation president Nick Bontis on March 9.

Canada Soccer now claims that it cannot honor the publicly announced March 9 offer or any other prior offers, because they were made without the approval of the board of directors, or the chief financial officer,” the players wrote. “These are disturbing facts given that at that time Canada Soccer was already the subject of the Federal Government’s scrutiny and continues to be subject to a federal financial audit.”

The players wrote that Canada Soccer has demanded the men’s national team players agree to reduce their per game compensation by as much as 75 per cent and that the federation wants to keep about 70 per cent of the prize money Canada Soccer is to receive for qualifying for the 2022 Men’s World Cup in Qatar and the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The players wrote that their latest offer to Canada Soccer would see the federation retain between $8.9 million and $14.1 million from the prize money for the two world cup tournaments.

“It is time for all responsible parties to come to the table to resolve this on the basis of sustainability, equity, fairness and transparency,” the players wrote. “This is our goal. We call on the continued support of Sport Canada and the Canadian Heritage Committee to oversee and ensure that this happens.”

Canada Soccer interim general secretary Jason deVos has confirmed the federation faces a financial crisis. In an interview with TSN in June, deVos confirmed that Canada Soccer’s finances have worsened to the point that both senior national teams may not play in international windows this fall and the organization may eventually need to contemplate filing for bankruptcy protection. deVos subsequently said that Canada Soccer is not currently contemplating bankruptcy.

Even with public funding (the federal government provided the federation with $5 million in 2022), Canada Soccer burned through more than $4 million last year. Its cash reserves plunged to $2.4 million at the end of 2022, according to Canada Soccer’s financial statements, down from $7.1 million a year earlier. In May, Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge ordered an independent audit of the federation, which will cover Mar 2017 to March 2023, citing a “lack of financial transparency."

For more than a year, Canada Soccer has been in negotiations to sign new collective bargaining agreements with both senior national teams. There are still no agreements in place with either the men’s or women’s national teams.

A Canada Soccer spokesperson said the federation would not respond to the players’ specific allegations.

“Our Women’s National Team is in the midst of a World Cup campaign, with a critical game just hours away,” the spokesperson said. “While we continue to work towards a resolution with our men’s national team players — as we have for months — we will do so through our respective legal counsel. We will not be making any further public comments while Canada competes at the Women’s World Cup.”