Crooks says she wants to heal rift with national teams, ‘modernize’ CSB deal
Charmaine Crooks, the newly elected president of Canada Soccer, testified before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage Thursday that she wants to heal rifts between the federation and its national teams and modernize its controversial media and sponsorship contract with the private company Canadian Soccer Business (CSB).
Crooks, who was elected president on Saturday at Canada Soccer’s annual meeting of members in Saint John, N.B., testified for about an hour and there were not many moments of appreciable tension.
At one point, Crooks was pressed about a recent off-the-field dispute involving the women’s national team.
Some players on that team have said that Crooks attended a virtual bargaining session in January 2022 when then-Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis insulted star striker Christine Sinclair, asking those who attended the meeting what Sinclair was “bitching about.”
Crooks has denied she attended the meeting.
After Liberal MP Anthony Housefather told Crooks he had a letter from a Canada Soccer lawyer confirming Crooks had been invited to attend the meeting, Crooks again denied she was there.
“I did check my schedule and I did not see a meeting matching the date when that call may or may not have taken place,” Crooks testified. “I do stand by the fact that that tone and that rhetoric and that language that was displayed to those to all those players is totally unacceptable.”
Conservative MP Kevin Waugh began the questioning of Crooks by raising the problems the federation has had negotiating contracts with both the senior men’s and women’s national teams.
“I don’t have to tell you the national teams are absolutely pissed off with you and your organization,” Waugh said. “Before New Brunswick, the AGM, they had letters out to everybody. They are absolutely disappointed in the leadership of Canada Soccer, which you have been a part of for the last 10 years. …You’ve got a problem with both national teams. …Both of them are demanding massive change. What are you going to do for them?”
Days before the Canada Soccer election, the players associations of both national teams wrote a letter to the presidents of Canada’s provincial soccer federations, asking them to change Canada Soccer’s leadership.
Crooks agreed the federation’s past was “not perfect” and said those issues inspired her to run for election.
“Of course, I acknowledge a lot of the historic hurts that have happened in the past with our athletes, but we are working to make it a better place,” she said. “All of us want to make Canada Soccer a better place. We’ve had challenges, and we will continue to work through that.
“…. I’ve heard their concerns and we are acting on many of them immediately. One of the pillars will be athletes’ engagement in the governance process.”
Crooks was the latest Canada Soccer official to testify before the committee and defend the federation’s contract with CSB. Thanks to that contract, sponsorship money fueled by the success of both national teams flows to the CSB, which is controlled by the Canadian Premier League, the country’s first domestic men’s professional league.
In exchange for its sponsor and media rights, Canada Soccer receives a flat annual fee of between $3 million to $4 million per year. Crooks said she has already talked to CSB about “modernizing” that contract.
“We our currently looking at ways to modernize this agreement,” Crooks said. “That includes looking at the unilateral terms as well as opportunities for sponsorship growth throughout. Right now, it may not be the most perfect deal, but this is an opportunity for us to grow our game.”
“…It’s not a perfect deal. A lot of deals are not perfect deals. But we do believe that in this time we will modernize it and we have already started that process.”
Conservative MP Rachael Thomas challenged Crooks on some of the answers she provided the committee.
“I've noticed that when you were asked [some] questions, your posture is tight and you had a very formulated answer ready to go,” Thomas said. “But I've noticed that when we've asked you other questions, you've been more free. You've kind of chuckled… I wonder if you're lying. Are you skirting our questions?”
Crooks, who appeared by video conference, said she vehemently rejected Thomas’ line of questioning.
“I came today to speak openly with respect and in a spirit of safe sport, and that's why I'm here,” she answered.
Housefather pointed out that Crooks owns her own business, has been a Canada Soccer board member since 2013, and that she seconded a motion in 2018 to endorse the federation’s contract with CSB, a deal which is effectively for 20 years.
“There are questions about why you would agree to a 20-year term,” Housefather said. “I think everybody knew there was not a great upside going forward. The [CSB] payment amounts never go over $4 million in 20 years. If there were upsides, for example, if the women’s team makes the Olympics, the deal goes to $8 million… if we host a World Cup it goes up to $15 million. None of those are there. And I think as a smart businesswoman, you would have seen that. Did you ask those questions at the time?”
Crooks said the CSB agreement has not aged well
“Based on the information we had and looking at the upside – $3 million a year when we had a lot of challenges in the organization – it was a deal, at the time, that was good,” she said. “Now times have changed, and we have a chance to look at it in this light now.
“…Where we are now is looking at how we can make it better. There is an opening, and we are taking that, working that together. …We are looking at every single angle to be able to correct some of these areas of this partnership.”