Parliamentary committee asks to see Canada Soccer deal with Canadian Soccer Business

Canada Soccer has been asked to deliver a copy of its controversial agreement with Canadian Soccer Business (CSB) to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage by Friday.

The parliamentary committee had already asked Canada Soccer to attend a future meeting to be questioned, with Liberal MP Anthony Housefather saying previously that the governing body should be moved "to the top of the list'' given the ongoing labour impasse with the men's and women's national soccer teams.

The Heritage Committee has already received copies of Canada Soccer's board minutes dating back to January 2018. NDP MP Peter Julian has asked that Canada Soccer also provide board minutes from 2017 "as part of the issue of getting to the bottom of what's transpired with Canada Soccer."

A motion Tuesday by Housefather asked that "as part of the committee's safe sport study, the committee orders Soccer Canada to produce an unredacted copy of all contracts including but not limited to the representation agreement that it has with Canadian Soccer Business."

"This is just so we can get this very important document before we have Soccer Canada come to speak with us," said Housefather.

Canada Soccer has to make the documents available.

"We have the same powers as a court," Housefather said in an interview.

The motion calls for the document to be given to the clerk of the committee by Friday noon ET. Translating the document will take about two weeks, Julian noted.

Julian's request for additional board minutes was added to the motion, which passed without objection.

Canada Soccer said it is scheduled to go before the committee on March 20. Members of the women's team will likely go before the committee on a different date.

The Canadian women are demanding the same backing in preparing for this summer's Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand that the men received last year before Qatar. And they want Canada Soccer to open its books, including its deal with Canadian Soccer Business, and explain the cuts being made to both the men's and women's programs this year.

The Canadian men, fresh from their first appearance in the World Cup in 36 years, and Olympic champion women are both negotiating new collective bargaining agreements. And the labour talks have been bumpy.

The Canadian men boycotted a planned friendly against Panama last June in Vancouver because of the labour impasse.

The Canadian women briefly went on strike before the recent SheBelieves Cup in Florida but were forced back onto the pitch by threats of legal action by Canada Soccer.

Canada Soccer said the players "were not and are not in a legal strike position under Ontario labour law.'' The women played the four-team tournament under protest.

Nick Bontis resigned as Canada Soccer president on Monday, acknowledging "this moment requires change." He quit in the wake of a letter from provincial and territorial soccer leaders asking him to step down given the bitter labour dispute.

The committee still wants Bontis to appear.

CSB essentially markets Canada's soccer product, on the field and off, via broadcast and sponsorship agreements. It pays the governing body a set amount each year with the rest helping fund the Canadian Premier League.

The "representation agreement" with Canada Soccer was for a 10-year term. CSB CEO Mark Noonan, who doubles as the Canadian Premier League commissioner, says it could last a further five years via a possible extension.

Canada Soccer, which does not hold an ownership stake in CSB, is reportedly receiving $3 million to $4 million a year currently under the deal as "the beneficiary of a rights fee guarantee."

Noonan won't detail the financial arrangements, but says the annual guarantee is "three times what Canada Soccer was making commercially back in 2018 when nobody was willing to take a risk."

Canada Soccer saw the agreement — announced in March 2018 — as short-term pain for long-term gain. But it soon found its hands tied in terms of reaping the financial awards of the women winning Olympic gold and the men becoming the toast of CONCACAF in returning to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.

Canada Soccer has repeatedly said that pay equity will be a pillar of the new labour deal.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2023.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press