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Canada Soccer head steps down after federations seek his resignation

Nick Bontis Nick Bontis - The Canadian Press

Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis agreed to resign his position Monday, hours after the 13 presidents of Canada’s provincial and territorial soccer federations, a group known collectively as the Presidents’ Forum, sent a letter requesting his resignation.

“I acknowledge this moment requires change,” Bontis wrote in a statement published by Canada Soccer.

TSN obtained a copy of the Presidents’ Forum’s letter, which said the federations had lost faith in Bontis’ ability to lead the organization

“With the unanimous support of all members of the Presidents’ Forum, I am requesting your resignation as president of Canada Soccer effective immediately,” Presidents’ Forum chair Kevin Topolniski wrote in the one-page letter. “The Presidents’ Forum, representing the member associations of Canada Soccer, is requesting your resignation due to non-confidence in your leadership of Canada Soccer.”

Topolniski, who is also president of Soccer New Brunswick, wrote that if the Presidents’ Forum had not received Bontis’ resignation, it would have requested that Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane call a special general meeting “where an ordinary resolution to remove yourself from the office of the president will be moved.”

A source familiar with the matter said it's possible that the Presidents' Forum will also seek the ouster of Cochrane, who was hired last July and who works closely with Bontis.

Bontis, who was president of Canada Soccer since November 2020 and a member of the organization’s board since 2012, has been the face of the organization through a tumultuous year. 

Last June, months before the men’s World Cup in Qatar, the men’s national team went on strike, refusing to play in a game in Vancouver against Panama.

The players said they were angry that Canada Soccer had not negotiated a deal for how to split the $10 million bonus that Canada had earned from qualifying for the World Cup. An agreement has still not been reached.

Earlier this month, players on Canada’s women’s national soccer team said they were going on strike over pay equity issues and budget cuts. 

Canada Soccer threatened to sue the Canadian Soccer Players' Association (CPSA) and the players who were attending a training camp in Florida ahead of the SheBelieves Cup, two people familiar with the matter told TSN. The women’s team decided to play in the tournament but threatened future job action if Canada Soccer did not provide an appropriate budget for 2023.

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 hours before Bontis and Cochrane were scheduled to meet with team player representatives.

Players on both national teams have demanded an audit of Canada Soccer’s finances and a review of its media and sponsor contract with a private company called Canada Soccer Business, which is owned and operated by Canadian Premier League team owners.

On Jan. 1, 2019, six months after FIFA awarded the 2026 World Cup to Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, Canada Soccer and CSB began a nine-year contract, a partnership that indirectly affects both the men’s and women’s national teams.

The agreement obliges CSB to pay a guaranteed fee to Canada Soccer annually between 2019 and 2027 in exchange for the rights to sell both broadcasting and corporate sponsorship rights to the men’s and women’s national teams.

In 2019, that fee was $3 million, according to a copy of the contract obtained by TSN. The guarantee climbs each year, topping out at $3.5 million in 2027. The contract, which is signed by Steve Reed (Canada Soccer’s president from 2017-20), says CSB has the right to extend the deal for an additional 10 years and if it triggers that extension, must pay Canada Soccer at least $4 million per year from 2028 to 2037.

CSB, for its part, is responsible for paying production costs to broadcast CPL and Canadian national team games. Under an agreement with the Chinese-backed Spanish media company Mediapro, most CPL and national team games are broadcast by the streaming service OneSoccer.

While Canada Soccer keeps all ticket revenue from national team matches staged in Canada, the contract says CSB keeps all revenue from sponsorships.

Members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage told TSN that they have invited members of the Canadian women’s national team to testify in Ottawa on March 9 about their labour issues with Canada soccer. The MPs also said that Bontis and Cochrane would be invited to speak to the hearing on March 20. They would be subpoenaed if they declined an invitation, a source told TSN.