Soccer bigwigs Montagliani, Bontis to testify Thursday at MP committee examining Canada Soccer

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CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani of Vancouver will testify Thursday via video conference at the  Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage looking into Canada Soccer. (Yuki Iwamura/AFP via Getty Images/File - image credit)
CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani of Vancouver will testify Thursday via video conference at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage looking into Canada Soccer. (Yuki Iwamura/AFP via Getty Images/File - image credit)

FIFA vice president and Vancouver native Victor Montagliani will give testimony via video conference at the Safe Sport in Canada hearings looking into Canada Soccer on Thursday, March 30.

Montagliani, along with recently-resigned Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis and current Canada Soccer chief financial officer Sean Heffernan were summoned by the committee of MPs last week.

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Committee member Anthony Housefather said the trio was called to appear because they have been involved at the highest levels of Canadian soccer for the last two decades.

"They ... were instrumental in all of the major decisions we are looking at ranging from the agreement between Canada Soccer and [Canadian Soccer Business] to the Bob Birarda case and how Canada Soccer deals with questions of harassment," said Housefather, Liberal MP for Mount Royal.

"I think we are hoping to understand their explanations for things such as why the [CSB] agreement was negotiated the way it was and why Birarda was allowed to continue coaching even after Canada Soccer had specific knowledge of multiple allegations. There are other issues, of course, ranging from a culture of entitlement of the Canada Soccer Board to its relationship with CONCACAF," he said.

Montagliani is president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and FIFA vice-president. He is a former president of B.C. Soccer, served as vice-president of Canada Soccer from 2005 to 2012 and president of Canada Soccer from 2012 to 2017.

In 2008 Montagliani held the non-executive position of director of national teams when coach Bob Birarda was quietly let go from his dual role as head coach of the Canadian Under-20 women's team and Vancouver Whitecaps women's team after players raised concerns about his behaviour. Birarda resumed coaching girls' club soccer in the Greater Vancouver area within months of his dismissal.

In 2019, whistleblower Ciara McCormack went public with complaints and concerns that Birarda was still coaching girls. Four former players subsequently came forward to police with historical complaints dating from 1988 to 2008.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Last year Birarda was given a two-year sentence including 16 months in jail after pleading guilty to three counts of sexual assault and one count of touching a young person for a sexual purpose.

McCormack and others have previously called for Montagliani's suspension. She said she hopes those summoned to testify will "have to answer truthfully."

"After over a decade of seeing people within Canadian soccer being harmed by the same people and there being zero accountability and transparency — which has enabled this behaviour — it is encouraging to see government taking financial, physical, sexual and emotional abuse in all facets of sport seriously with these hearings," said McCormack.

Earlier this month, members of Canada's Olympic champion women's national team testified in front of the committee about lack of pay equity and lack of support for their team.

A major issue raised was the 2018 deal struck by Canada Soccer with Canadian Soccer Business, the little-known company that owns Canada Soccer sponsorship and broadcast rights while funding the male-only Canadian Premier League.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Bontis resigned as president of Canada Soccer in February amid upheaval around the Canadian Soccer Business deal and labour disputes with both the women's and men's national teams. He remains CONCACAF council vice-president for North America, a position he was named to days before he tendered his resignation.

He is certain to be asked about testimony given by Canadian women's team captain Christine Sinclair earlier this month where she describes a meeting with Canada Soccer to discuss pay equity after learning the men's national team's pay was five times that of the women's national team.

"On a personal note I've never been more insulted than I was by Canada Soccer's own president Nick Bontis last year," Sinclair told the committee. "I was tasked with outlining our compensation ask on behalf of the women's national team. [Bontis] listened to what I had to say and then later in the meeting referred back to it as 'what was it Christine was bitching about.'"

Montagliani, Bontis and Heffernan are scheduled to appear for two hours beginning at 12:30 p.m. PT Thursday.