Crooks elected Canada Soccer president at annual meeting in Saint John
Charmaine Crooks was officially elected as president of Canada Soccer on Saturday, promising to unify the membership and bring the sport "back to its rightful place."
The former Olympic track star beat out former Canada Soccer vice-president Rob Newman for the top elected job at the governing body's annual meeting in Saint John, N.B. Crooks had been elevated to interim president from vice-president in late February after Nick Bontis resigned, acknowledging change was needed to achieve labour peace with the Canadian men's and women's national teams.
Crooks says the message from the members was clear.
"I heard consistently how trust, transparency and building better communication was one of the paths forward to ensure that we have a stable strong organization that all Canadians can be proud of," Crooks said in an interview.
"I want to help bring people together to unite and to really modernize our organization to take it to the next level," she added.
Crooks will have a year to impress, given that is the time that Bontis' appointment would have lasted. There will be another election a year from now, this time for a full four-year term.
The membership also agreed that, in the future, being a board member is not a requirement for running for president.
Crooks will have to win over the players, who urged provincial federation leaders prior to the meeting to vote for change. And Canada's sport minister Pascale St-Onge has said the federal government is looking at the tools it can use to investigate Canada Soccer, including the potential for an audit of the organization's finances.
Crooks faces a high-profile test on Thursday when she is expected to appear on Parliament Hill before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
Canada Soccer's annual meeting of the members, which runs through Sunday, also saw Project 8, the group putting together a domestic women's league, get sanctioned.
"Today, it's been historic for women's football," said Crooks, the first woman elected president of Canada Soccer and one of only three in CONCACAF.
Former Canadian international Diana Matheson, who is spearheading Project 8, is planning an eight-team league to kick off in 2025 with franchises in Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver having already signed on.
Project 8, in a statement, called it a "historic (first) moment for women and girls at all levels of soccer in Canada — both on and off the field."
"This has been a long and heartfelt journey, and we are excited about what is next for Canadians," the statement continued. "Excited about the genuine pathways for women and girls in sports — whether that’s as players, coaches, referees or professionals.
"We’re excited that there is an opportunity for our talent to stay in Canada and we’re especially excited by how inspired and motivated Canadians are by this league. We know there’s a lot of work ahead of us to establish a professional infrastructure and ecosystem, and the next few years will be crucial to our success, but today we secured our destination."
Crooks, a five-time Olympian who earned silver in the 4x400 track relay at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, has been on the Canada Soccer board since 2012-13 and served as vice-president since January 2021.
Newman served on Canada Soccer’s board for 10 years (2002-03 to 2011-12), including four years as vice-president (2008-09 to 2011-12). A former president of Saskatchewan Soccer, he is currently president and CEO of B.C. Sport.
When Crooks was elevated to interim president, the Canada Soccer board named Kelly Brown as acting vice-president.
Brown, elected as Canada Soccer independent director in 2020, opted not to run for VP and Paul-Claude Berube won the position over Dale Briggs in Saturday's vote.
There were three other board positions on the ballot.
Don Story, the incumbent for Manitoba/Saskatchewan/Nunavut, was acclaimed.
With Bob Richardson (Ontario) and Karen MacNeill (Alberta/Northwest Territories) not seeking re-election, Don Rossi was elected Ontario board member and Orest Konowalchuk was voted in to represent Alberta.
Canada Soccer did not release the vote totals in announcing the results.
The board now stands as 13 — 12 plus Crooks — with the Quebec position open now that Berube, who has been a board member since 2015-16, has shifted to vice-president.
There has been change at Canada Soccer, as well as a spotlight on the governing body.
Earl Cochrane announced last month he was stepping down as general secretary, the top staff position in the organization. Former Canada captain Jason deVos, a Canada Soccer Hall of Famer who is currently Canada Soccer's director of development, has been named interim general secretary.
Bontis, Cochrane, Berube, Canada Soccer chief financial officer Sean Heffernan and former president Steven Reed have already testified before the parliamentary committee, as have Canada captain Christine Sinclair and fellow national team players Sophie Schmidt, Janine Beckie and Quinn, who goes by one name.
There were 85 votes up for grabs among the members at the annual meeting, divided primarily by geography — with 10 each for Ontario and Quebec, eight each for Alberta and British Columbia, four each for Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, three each for Manitoba and Nova Scotia, and two each for Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.
The other 25 votes came from the players (two votes, one from each national team), Canada's leagues and professional clubs (21), referees (one) and coaches (one).
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2023