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Canada Soccer threatens to sue players over job action: sources

Canada Soccer logo Canada Soccer logo - The Canadian Press

A day after players on Canada’s women’s national soccer team said they were going on strike over pay equity issues and budget cuts, Canada Soccer has threatened to sue the Canadian Soccer Players' Association (CPSA) and the players who are attending a team camp in Florida, two people familiar with the matter told TSN.

The threat against the players and the CPSA, which was recognized by Canada Soccer in 2016 as the exclusive bargaining group for the women's team, was made Saturday morning, hours before Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis and general secretary Earl Cochrane were scheduled to meet with team player representatives, the people said.

Neither the players nor a Canada Soccer spokesperson responded to a request for comment. 

The legal threat ratchets up the tension between the governing body for soccer in Canada and members of the national team, who are scheduled to play in the SheBelieves Cup next week and in the Women’s World Cup in five months.

The players association requested a “no board report” from a government-appointed conciliator on Tuesday. The document, which was filed with the Ontario Minister of Labour, indicates a deal can't be reached with Canada Soccer in its negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement for 2023.

Once the minister issues a “no board” report, it sets a 17-day countdown to the union being in a legal strike position, a person familiar with the matter said.

It’s unclear whether the players will return to training and play their scheduled game next Thursday against the U.S. If they do resume practising and playing, it’s possible the players could pursue a legal strike before a game in France against the French national team on Apr. 11.

Players have said they have been told the national team will not play a game in Canada before the World Cup, which is scheduled to take place in Australia and New Zealand from July 20 to Aug. 20.

Also Saturday, a day after national team players Christine Sinclair and Janine Beckie said that Canada Soccer is not properly supporting the women's program and that new leadership may be needed, Canadian Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge said the government planned to get involved in the impasse.

“We will always support the right of women athletes to fair and equitable compensation,” St-Onge wrote in a statement to TSN. “We are proud of our national female athletes and teams, and we fully support them. We will contact both parties shortly, and assess the situation to help find a positive resolution.”

Beckie said the players, who won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, have demanded the same 2023 budget that the men’s national team had a year ago and have also demanded that Canada Soccer arrange for the team to play a game in Canada before this summer’s Women’s World Cup.

Players said their requests to see Canada Soccer’s budget and financial information has been ignored. 

From 2018-19 to 2021-22, known as the “Tokyo Quadrennial,” Canada Soccer received $12.7 million from Sport Canada’s Own the Podium program – money that was earmarked for the women’s program because of its international success.

Players want details about how that money was spent, how their budgets compare to the national men’s team, and how money generated from hosting the 2015 Women’s World Cup has been spent, the two people familiar with the matter told TSN.

The women’s team’s statement also rekindles questions about Canada Soccer’s ties to a private company called Canada Soccer Business (CSB), which is controlled by owners of the Canadian Premier League, a domestic men’s professional league.

Canada Soccer has a nine-year contract with CSB in which the national federation has given up its media and sponsorship rights to both national teams in exchange for an annual guaranteed fee of between $3 million to $4 million per year.

According to a copy of the contract, obtained by TSN, CSB can extend the contract through 2037, paying as little as $3 million per year.

In a statement released Friday night, Canada Soccer wrote that it has a proven track record of supporting women’s soccer.

“Pay equity for our women’s national team is at the core of our ongoing player negotiations,” Canada Soccer wrote. “We want to get this resolved, for both of our national teams, and for soccer in Canada.”

UPDATE: The Canadian women’s national team said later on Saturday that it will resume training. The team says Canada Soccer has threatened to sue players for potentially millions of dollars in damages if they don’t play next week in the SheBelieves Cup.