Canadian soccer players back training, but talks continue on new deal

·4 min read

VANCOUVER — Canada's men's soccer team is back to training, but the players say there's still work to be done on reaching a new deal with the sport's national governing body.

A friendly game against Panama was cancelled Sunday after the Canadian athletes refused to play, citing "unnecessarily prolonged" negotiations over a new contract. Training sessions on Friday and Saturday were also scrapped due to the contract dispute.

The players met with senior leaders of Canada Soccer on Sunday night, and the team resumed training at the Vancouver Whitecaps' facility Monday. The group will also train Tuesday before kicking off CONCACAF Nations League play against Curaçao in Vancouver on Thursday. Canada Soccer said Tuesday on Twitter that the game will go ahead.

"Canada Soccer and the men's national team players, who returned to training on Monday, confirmed that they look forward to facing Curaçao in CONCACAF Nations League," Canada Soccer said, adding the organization and players "are excited to see our fans (Thursday) at BC Place."

The players said in a statement Monday that they "will continue the negotiation process, but questions have yet to be answered and actions have yet to be taken. We move forward in hopes that Canada Soccer will work with us to resolve the situation."

Compensation appears to be a sticking point in the negotiations.

In a statement released Sunday, the players said they're asking for World Cup compensation that includes 40 per cent of prize money and a "comprehensive friends and family package" for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Canada, ranked 38th in the world, clinched a spot in the tournament in March. It's the first time the country will play in the World Cup since 1986.

FIFA announced on April 1 that the total World Cup prize pool will be US$440 million, with the winner taking $42 million. Teams eliminated in the group stage will take home $9 million.

Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis told reporters on Sunday that the organization was offering players 30 per cent of the World Cup winnings.

He said the proposal players have put forward is not financially viable.

"My job as president is a responsibility to the fiduciary and stable health of this organization, not just for the last 120 years that we've been alive, but for the next 100 years we're going to be alive,'' Bontis said at a press conference. "And I can't accept an offer that will put our organization in a financial position that is untenable.''

The players are also asking for equitable compensation between the men's and women's teams, sharing player match fees and percentage of World Cup prize money. They're also asking for the development of a women's domestic league.

Last month, the U.S. Soccer federation signed historic collective bargaining agreements that included equal pay for its men's and women's national teams.

Under the agreement, World Cup prize money will be pooled and then divided among the players, with U.S. Soccer taking 10 per cent of the pool from the 2022-23 tournaments and 20 per cent in 2026-27.

The U.S. received $4 million for winning the 2019 Women's World Cup, where the total purse was $30 million.

FIFA President Gianni Infantio has proposed doubling the prize money to $60 million for the 2023 Women's World Cup, in which FIFA has increased the teams from 24 to 32.

Canada's women's national team put out a statement Sunday night saying they're happy to hear the men's team call for equitable compensation. But the players noted that they do not view equal percentages of winnings as equal pay.

"We have been clear throughout these discussions (and before) that we are seeking and arrangement with Canada Soccer that will provide equal pay to members of our team relative to the men's national team," the statement said. "The women's national team will not accept an agreement that does not offer equal pay."

Canada Soccer tabled offers for both the men's and women's national teams last week and the women's team said while it was still looking at the deal, they believe it represents a "positive step toward pay equity" and "provides a basis for further negotiations."

"We look forward to working with both Canada Soccer and the men's national team towards a deal that offers true pay equity and that advances the sport of soccer in Canada, for the benefit of all of us," the women's team said.

— With files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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